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CAUT Bulletin Archives

September 2001

Jury Awards $8 million in Paxil Case

In a precedent-setting decision, a federal court jury in the United States District Court in Cheyenne, Wyoming unanimously found that GlaxoSmithKline's antidepressant Paxil caused a man to kill three family members and himself and awarded survivors from two families $8 million in damages.

The verdict is one of the first against a member of the widely prescribed family of antidepressants known as serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). The drug company has indicated it will appeal the decision.

Dr. David Healy and Harvard psychiatrist Dr. John T. Maltsberger testified as expert witnesses in the Wyoming case on behalf of the plaintiffs. Their testimony was found pivotal in the judgment of the court and the award by the jury.

Healy has long argued that pharmaceutical companies have a duty to warn about the risk of suicidal ideation and/or violent behaviour arising in some patients from the use of the most widely prescribed antidepressants such as Paxil, Prozac and other SSRIs. He has criticized the pharmaceutical industry for failing to issue appropriate warnings and the misuse of clinical studies in promoting the safety of the drugs.

Protagonists believe his critical comments about the role of drug companies in medical research and medical practice, coupled with his views about SSRI-induced violence, led to the University of Toronto and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health rescinding his contract of employment late last year after he spoke at an international colloquium at the university.

CAUT is representing the University of Toronto Faculty Association in a policy grievance which alleges the university breached its obligations respecting academic freedom by rescinding Healy's contract.

The grievance is now before the university's grievance review panel.