Lilly accused at trial of hiding Cymbalta ‘brain zap’ risk

Eli Lilly and Co. was accused of misleading consumers about the frequency of “brain zaps” and other withdrawal symptoms tied to its antidepressant Cymbalta in the first court trial targeting the drug.

Lilly officials failed to provide proper warnings that Cymbalta, once the company’s top-selling drug, carried with it severe withdrawal risks, said T. Matthew Leckman, a lawyer for Claudia Herrera, who claims she suffered electrical-shock sensations, dizziness and nausea for a year after getting off the medication.

“You’ll be asked to decide whether or not what she suffered was caused by Cymbalta withdrawal,” Leckman told the federal jury in Los Angeles on Tuesday. Lilly downplayed the numbers of people who were likely to suffer withdrawal symptoms once off the drug, he said.

Lilly is seeking to rebound from what it has called a low point in sales in 2014, after losing exclusive rights to blockbuster medicines such as the anti-psychotic drug Zyprexa and Cymbalta.

The drugmaker faces as many as 5,000 cases claiming it downplayed Cymbalta’s withdrawal risks, which allegedly include electrical-shock sensations described in court filings as “brain zaps.” Other side effects are said to include vomiting and insomnia.

Lilly says it provided adequate warnings about Cymbalta’s withdrawal risks tied to Cymbalta use and doctors wouldn’t have been swayed by more information about potential side effects.

“The label is written for doctors,” Paul Schmidt, one of Lilly’s lawyers, said in his opening statement. “It’s written for people with medical training so that they can make a judgment about the safety of the medicine.”

Lilly’s bid to have ex-Cymbalta users’ suits thrown out last year was rebuffed by U.S. District Judge Steven Wilson, who is presiding over Herrera’s case.

Wilson said jurors must decide whether Lilly officials designed Cymbalta studies to “under-report the risk of discontinuation symptoms,” according to court filings.

Herrera, who took Cymbalta for about five years, argues in court filings that Lilly executives downplayed the withdrawal risks by saying as few as 2 percent of users suffered side effects, according to court filings.

Studies have found more than 40 percent of Cymbalta patients suffered withdrawal after quitting the medicine, her lawyers said in filings.

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