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Prozac's® Maker Takes Heat for Presentation at High School Depression-Awareness Day


February 1995

Some students and parents at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, Maryland are upset that Eli Lilly & Company attended the school's National Depression Awareness Day program and distributed Prozac®-promoting literature (Kathleen Day, "Depression Awareness -- or a Prozac Pitch?" Washington Post, Jan. 18, 1995, p. F1).

Representatives from the company also spoke before the student body and paid for another speaker to address the school. After the presentation, the Lilly representatives passed out free pens, pads of paper and literature promoting one of its most popular products -- Prozac®.

Brian J. Porter, a spokesperson for the school said they did not plan for Eli Lilly to make Prozac® pitches. "The rule of thumb is that individuals representing commercial or corporate interests should keep their product endorsements to an absolute minimum. But it occurred. It's regrettable. The event started with good intentions and grew into something that was more one-sided than necessary."

Eli Lilly insists that their presentation and distribution of promotional material was not improper. Prozac® is the trade name for fluoxetine.

"I was upset that I had to sit in an assembly for 45 minutes and listen to a plug for Prozac®," said Aliza Batzri, 16, a student at Walter Johnson. Her mother Linda Batzri was similarly upset. "The message my daughter came away with was, 'Pop a pill and everything will be all right.' There wasn't a counter view that counseling could work," she said.

The program at the school was part of National Depression Awareness Day, which is sponsored by the National Depression Screening Day Project. The Project receives half of its funding from Eli Lilly.

The purpose of the program is to distribute questionnaires that are later evaluated for depression risk factors by mental health specialists. At Walter Johnson, thirty students were alerted for possible counseling and their parents contacted.

The pamphlet distributed to students by Eli Lilly discusses the indicators of depression and then asks, "Why Prozac?" and "How soon will I start feeling better?" "Improvement will be gradual," the pamphlet says. "All antidepressants, including Prozac®, take time to work, so don't be discouraged if you don't start feeling better right away."

[Doesn't the presentation and distribution of the pro-Prozac® literature interfere with the accuracy of the returned questionnaires if they are answered after the presentation? -- EES]