INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- The pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Co. claims the Church of Scientology is perpretrating a 'great hoax' in its attack on Lilly's anti-depressant drug Prozac.
Lilly, whose sale of the drug last year totaled $750 million, said more than 3 million people have been treated with Prozac since it was introduced in 1988.
But sales have declined this year following a publicity campaign by the Scientologists and about 60 civil lawsuits claiming the drug causes people to commit suicide and to be a threat to others.
The Church of Scientology, founded by L. Ron Hubbard, opposes psychiatry and psychiatric drugs and its Citizens Commission on Human Rights targeted Prozac as sales grew.
As lawsuits appeared, charging that Prozac had caused suicidal or homicidal tendencies, the Los Angeles-based commission sent press releases to newspapers and financial analysts, petitioned government agencies and Congress, publicized the lawsuits and helped organize a national 'Prozac Survivors Support Group.'
Lilly, normally conservative in its approach to controversy, has taken an aggressive stand against the church's effort and has the support of many doctors, including one who called the church a 'little cult.'
'There's been a great hoax perpetrated by the Scientologists,' said chief Lilly spokesman Edward A. West. 'We simply can't ignore the fact that there are patients out there who are being endangered by this type of campaign,' he told the Indianapolis Star.
Lilly has also mailed letters defending Prozac to its employees, shareholders and about 500,000 doctors and pharmacists nationally. Similar messages were sent to newspapers and broadcasters.
The letters included reprints of an April article in The Wall Street Journal outlining the Scientologists' campaign and referred to a May 6 Time magazine story that called Scientology 'a ruthless global scam.'
Lilly also has the support of many doctors.
'Without a question, thousands of patients have been damaged' by stopping the medication following the publicity, said Dr. Troy Thompson, director of psychiatry at Jefferson University in Philadelphia.
'Statistically, it's inevitable there will be deaths, there will be suicides among people who have stopped,' he said.
Dr. Paul Riley, director of the St. Vincent Street Center in Indianapolis, said several of his patients have stopped taking the drug.
'It makes me mad that a little cult can so manipulate the television and the press that I can't use a drug that is a drug of choice,' he said.
Scientology's research director, Michael D. O'Brien, said the commission has received 'thousands' of calls about the drug.
'For Eli Lilly to continue to conceal the fact that Prozac causes people to become violent is really outrageous,' he said.