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Lilly Employees Disciplined for Promoting Prozac to Students

February 1, 1995

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ The maker of Prozac said Tuesday it disciplined two salesmen for violating company policy by promoting its popular antidepressant during a seminar for high school students.

Eli Lilly and Co. took the action after parents of students at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, Md., complained that a program on depression turned into a product promotion.

``This should not have happened,″ Lilly spokesman Edward West said Tuesday. ``A couple of individuals had a lapse in judgement.″

He refused to identify the district sales manager and sales representative involved, and wouldn’t disclose the disciplinary action taken against them. He did not say if they still work for Lilly.

The two salesmen attended a screening put on by the Washington Foundation for Psychiatry, which received some program materials from a foundation that receives funding from Lilly.

A doctor scheduled to speak was late, so the two Lilly employees were asked to fill in, West said.

While discussing depression, they handed out brochures on Prozac. They also distributed pens and paper bearing the drug’s name and maker so the students could fill out questionnaires used to screen for depression, West said.

``The message was, `If you feel sad, drop a Prozac,‴ Maria Virker, an 11th-grader, said in an interview last week with The Washington Post.

Prozac is the world’s largest selling antidepressant and brings Lilly well over $1 billion in sales annually.

While Lilly called the incident isolated, the drug industry has been under fire lately for questionable marketing practices.

The most prominent case to date involved a growth hormone made by the biotech firm Genentech Inc., which funded a charity that conducted screenings in schools to identify short children who might be urged to take the drug. Genentech has since halted the screenings. One of its executives is under indictment in an alleged scheme to pay a doctor kickbacks for prescribing Protropin.

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