State: No alerts on Zyprexa side effects

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Anchorage, Alaska - Eli Lilly and Co. failed to adequately warn doctors and patients of dangerous side effects associated with its drug Zyprexa, an attorney for Alaska said Wednesday in opening arguments in the state's lawsuit against the drug maker.

Lilly did not adequately disclose that using the drug, prescribed to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, could lead to severe obesity, elevated blood sugar and diabetes, lawyer Scott Allen said.

"If they put a warning on this product, their sales would fall," Allen said. "They would lose money. People would choose another drug, and they decided not to disclose what they knew."

Alaska is suing to recover money it claims it had to pay for Medicaid patients who suffered serious health problems after taking Zyprexa. Alaska is one of nine states suing Lilly over Zyprexa and the first go to trial. The others are Utah, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Montana, Louisiana, New Mexico, Mississippi and South Carolina.

An attorney for the Indianapolis-based Lilly called Alaska's lawsuit "a case that should never have been brought."

George Lehner said the company will prove it met Food and Drug Administration labeling requirements and that physicians who prescribed the drugs were well aware of possible side effects, including weight gain.

Lilly provided approved product information in package inserts as well as physician desktop reference books and labels evolved as more information became available, Lehner said.

"The fact that the label changed over time does not mean it was misleading," he said.

Lilly attorney Nina Gussack urged jurors to consider how Zyprexa had helped free people "from a hell most people cannot imagine." The drug has been prescribed to more than 23 million people.

Despite filing the lawsuit two years ago, Alaska has not restricted the use of Zyprexa and at times has sought court orders to administer the drug to Alaskans with mental illness, Gussack said.

But Allen said that under state consumer protection law, Alaska does not have to present evidence that any single person was harmed, only that the company misled consumers.

"Informed choice," Allen said. "That's what this case is about."

Zyprexa brought in $4.8 billion in sales last year. The company has spent more than $1 billion to settle product liability claims from patients over Zyprexa, with many also alleging inadequate warnings.