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Today’s New York Times presents a portrait of a man whose family believes died from side effects of Zyprexa. The man had been on the anti-psychotic drug manufactured by Eli Lilly, also known as olanzipine, for over five years to treat his bipolar disorder and control hallucinations. While the drug had stabilized his moods, his weight ballooned and he developed serious heart disease and died.

Weight gain is a common side effect experienced by patients on Zyprexa, apparently due to an increase in blood sugar and cholesterol. According to Lilly, “Zyprexa is a lifesaving drug and it has helped millions of people worldwide with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder regain control of their lives.” However, the Times article quotes others who criticize the pharmaceutical company for downplaying the risks associated with the weight gain cauesd by the drug:

“Lilly always downplayed the side effects,” said Dr. S. Nassir Ghaemi, a specialist on bipolar disorder at Emory University in Atlanta. “They’ve tended to admit weight gain, but in various ways they’ve minimized its relevance.”

Government agencies are paying more attention to the issue, and thousands of product liabiilty cases are pending that allege injury or death due to the drug. The article states:

Last year, Lilly paid $700 million to settle 8,000 lawsuits from people who said they had developed diabetes or other diseases after taking Zyprexa. Thousands more suits are still pending.

In June, 2005, Lilly set up a fund of nearly $700 million to settle a group of cases alleging a failure by the company to put increased warnings on its label that diabetes was a common side effect, well before the FDA requested that the company change its label to disclose that risk.

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