Got Pain? Suicide-Linked Cymbalta May Be Right for You

Many are outraged that Eli Lilly gave nonprofits $3.9 million in grants last year for medical courses to “educate” doctors about the pain-and-fatigue ailment fibromyalgia–more than it spent for diabetes and Alzheimer’s which people already know they have.

But finding new diseases to justify a drug’s existence is the normal way pharma operates.

Especially Lilly who agreed to pay $1.42 billion for illegal marketing of its anti-psychotic Zyprexa last month–$615 million for criminally promoting it for dementia–another $62 million to 32 states for illegal pediatric marketing and agreed to resolve Medicaid fraud investigations into “rebates” at the same time. (And how was your year?)

And whose diabetes treatment Byetta is tanking since reports last summer of six deaths, at least two from pancreatitis.

But Lilly’s fibromyalgia-fighting drug, Cymbalta (duloxetine)–its second best seller after Zyprexa–is anything but normal.

Starting with the death of 19-year-old Cymbalta test subject Traci Johnson in 2004–who hanged herself in the Lilly Clinic in Indianapolis and had no history of mental problems–it has been beset by reports of baffling, rapid, unprovoked, and out of character suicides.

A 37-year-old man described in the Feb. 2008 Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology with a stable marriage and employment and no history of mental problems tried to kill himself with carbon monoxide two months after taking Cymbalta for back pain. “The patient was unable to state exactly why he wanted to commit suicide,” write the four physician authors all with the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Kansas Medical Center who note he returned to normal when the drug was stopped.

A 63-year-old man with no history of suicide attempts or ideation was similarly “unable to explain why he was having thoughts of wanting to die,” say the authors after becoming suicidal two weeks after being put on Cymbalta for fatigue, insomnia and sadness.

Last January, a Texas man prescribed Cymbalta for peripheral neuropathy because of a job that required him to be on his feet all day with no history mental problems “had a normal day at work, drove home, said he was going to grab a sandwich to his wife, and went and shot himself,” his family wrote a reporter.

In Feb. 2007, a 19-year-old Wisconsin college student recently put on Cymbalta “checked out books for a paper he was to write over the weekend,” emailed his resume “to see if he could get a spot on Obama’s team for the summer” and “then hung himself from his loft bed in his dorm,” writes his family. One month earlier, a 21-year old Midwest college student, recently put on Cymbalta, took his own life three minutes after speaking to his family while driving home and sounding fine, the family wrote a reporter.

Nor are incomprehensible and abrupt suicide attempts on Cymbalta a US phenomenon.

Bilal Salem and Elie Karam of the Saint George Hospital University Medical Center in Beirut, Lebanon write of similar “suicidality in apparently nonsuicidal patients after starting or increasing Duloxetine,” in the June 2008 Clinical Practice and Epidemiology in Mental Health.

Approved as an antidepressant and for diabetic nerve pain in 2004–soon after the Johnson suicide thanks to an unfazed FDA–Cymbalta soon proved to be the “Swiss Army Knife” of Lilly drugs says its hometown paper the Indianapolis Star–approved for general anxiety disorder and maintenance treatment of depression in 2007, for fibromyalgia in 2008 and with approvals for chronic knee and low back pain expected shortly.

In Europe it is in use for stress urinary incontinence but in the US its side effect of urinary retention landed Cymbalta on the FDA’s first Potential Signals of Serious Risks danger list in 2008. (FDA won’t release suicidal rates from stress urinary incontinence trials says reporter Jeanne Lenzer on Slate, who estimates them as 400 per 100,000 person-years for middle aged women.)

But some, like Shannon Brownlee, author of Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and Poorer, question the revenue-driven prescribothan. Should drugs “that may have a really serious side effect called suicide,” be used for simple knee or back pain, she asks in the Star.

No kidding! Cymbalta is also being studied for binge eating, social phobia, chronic fatigue, restless legs disorder, seasonal affective disorder, migraines, attention deficit disorder and childhood depression–despite known pediatric risks–PMS, menopause, alcoholism, panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, kleptomania and the important medical condition: tennis elbow.

At the American Academy of Pain Medicine Annual Meeting in January, Lilly presented a study by its own doctors finding Cymbalta was superior to placebo in knee pain–in keeping with its penchant to publish studies by Lilly funded and Lilly employed doctors saying Cymbalta is safe.

Cymbalta is also a good use of state and third party payer dollars say Lilly funded doctors in “Differences In Medication Adherence and Healthcare Resource Utilization Patterns: Older Versus Newer Antidepressant Agents In Patients With Depression And/Or Anxiety Disorders” in the 2008-22 CNS Drugs who are fighting the “restrictive reimbursement policies for newer antidepressants,” in which pharmacy benefits managers are saying you want us to spend WHAT?

Getting benefits managers to cover the $200 a month cost for Cymbalta prescriptions for fibromyaglia may also be tough since the ailment has no clear cause, blood test or cure. Maybe Lilly will offer pointers in the medical courses it is funding.

Martha Rosenberg is a columnist/cartoonist who writes about public health. Her first book, titled Born with a Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp the Public Health, has just been released by Prometheus Books. She can be reached at: martharosenberg@sbcglobal.net. Read other articles by Martha.

8 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Tree said on February 21st, 2009 at 9:19am #

    I appreciate these articles and find them very helpful. As a DES Daughter and someone who had spent years of my life on dangerous prescription drugs, most of them over prescribed and unnecessary, I can attest first hand to the greed of the doctors as well as their unwillingness to care about their patients.

    I’m not a doctor but I believe fibromyalgia is often if not always related to childhood trauma and years of a body trapped in the “fight or flight” syndrome which causes severe muscle tension and pain. Daily exercise can go a long way to relieving this pain.

    I hope people wake up and understand these drug companies don’t care about people and they start finding solutions to their problems that don’t involve drugs.

  2. Daniel Haszard said on February 21st, 2009 at 9:29am #

    Eli Lilly promotes sales of their #1 drug (Zyprexa $4.8 billion per year) that can *cause* diabetes and then turns around and makes billions selling more drugs to treat the diabetes.
    Eli Lilly’s # 1 cash cow Zyprexa has been over-prescribed and linked to a 10-times greater risk of causing type #2 diabetes and increased risk of heart attack

    Daniel Haszard zyprexa-victims.com

  3. Linda Roach said on February 22nd, 2009 at 10:07am #

    I can personally attest to the suicide effect that Cymbalta has. I was put on this medication and for quite a long time was VERY suicidal! I blamed it on losing my husband and son within a short amount of time but when I stopped taking Cymbalta(on my own) the black emptyness I felt was gone. I battle sadness at losing people I love dearly but am no longer suicidal now that I am no longer taking Cymbalta!!!

  4. Michele Angel said on March 6th, 2009 at 6:39am #

    I also am believing that Fibromyalgia is caused by childhood trauma
    and fight flight problem. I have it , it is very painful(muscles that is)
    and am currently seeing a therapist for my anxiety. I was prescribed
    Cymbalta took it one day and wow no way for me!!! I couldn’t remember
    a phone number it was horrible I know 1 day might not be enough but
    it sure was for me. I will stick to therapy thank you and maybe get
    something for anxiety but that drug they can keep it!! It’s too bad they
    can’t find a drug that really helps this disease, not something that just
    alters your mind. I pray they do.

  5. Kristy said on April 30th, 2009 at 1:57pm #

    I have been on Cymbalta for a month and a half. It has caused me to have suicidal thoughts for days now, and I have never had them before. Actually, I was researching this side effect and its frequency and that’s how I found this site. If I don’t get off of this medication soon, I just don’t know what I’ll do to myself.

    The warning in the literature about suicidal thoughts leaves out what I believe could be a great majority of people…people over the age of 24. I am 34 myself, and have never been like this before now.

    I am calling my Dr. when I am finished writing this. I want off!

  6. Suthiano said on April 30th, 2009 at 2:34pm #

    most ‘anti-depressants’ have the same effect.

    these drugs are all synthetic… human beings are obssessed with synthesis, in fact I would say we live in the “synthetic age”.

    The mineral age gave birth to the vegetable age. The vegetable age gave birth to the animal ageā€¦ the animal age has allowed us to create the synthetic age. The earth is covered with synthetic materials. Society is made up of synthetic ideals.
    The rain, h2o synthesized with all sorts of chemicals, falls, onto the ground. It is not absorbed by the soil, but rather falls onto the oil covered, asphalt road, and then flows over the concrete sidewalk, the artificial stone beach and into the chemical and oil filled lake.
    Our cows are fed synthetic, GM corn, grown from synthetic terminating seeds. The cows are pumped with hormones so that they grow bigger faster. We then consume this meat, and drink this milk.
    Our drugs are synthetic, with terrible side effects, even though the vegetable and mineral world provide us with all that we need to fight disease, pests, depression, etc…

    The synthetic age produces death: it covers over the other worlds.

  7. J martinez said on August 25th, 2009 at 11:17pm #

    I used cymbalta to assist in pain that I had acrued from bruised ribs. Okay, that worked…..I’m 27 and never had any reason to have suicidal ideology, now, I”ve been off of the medication for about 2-3 months….every now and then some crazy suicidal ideology pops up and I’m so frustrated by it just “popping up in my mind”. This is not healthy in any way, I hope that since I have discontinued the use of Cymbalta, that the little pop ups of suicide will go away!!! Very unhealthy, very dangerous, I would have never imagined these thoughts could be so disgusting and gross!!! I wish I never took Cymbalta!!!! Wishing that the suicidal ideology stops and going to the gym and having fun with friends to stay happy!!!
    As soon as the thoughts pop up, I tell them to go away!!! Good luck to anyone else trying to get away from them. J.M.

  8. ellen said on December 19th, 2009 at 9:45am #

    For pain and/or depression I suggest people investigate SAM-e. It is a naturally occurring enzyme, NO side effects, has been used with great success in Europe for over 25 years.
    I do not have fibromyalgia, so cannot comment on that, altho if I had it, I would try SAM-e.
    I have used it for severe depression and find it works quickly and well.
    good luck,
    ellen