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eye - 05.02.02


Prozac prof

BY CARLYN ZWARENSTEIN

Dr. David Healy, the British psychopharmacologist who was abruptly "unhired" in late 2000 by the University of Toronto and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), will be in Toronto on May 24 to deliver a controversial lecture at the Bloor Cinema at 7:00pm.

In a presentation advertised as "the lecture that got me fired," Healy will revisit a November 30, 2000 speech he gave at CAMH that he believes led to his offer of employment being rescinded.

A lawsuit he launched against the university has just been settled, and he will become a visiting professor at the university's faculty of medicine for the next three years. Healy's case sparked an international controversy about pharmaceutical companies, research and academic freedom.

In late 2000, the university and CAMH withdrew Healy's signed offer of employment shortly after a talk he gave about the possible dangers of the antidepressant Prozac -- which he said may induce suicidal thoughts and behaviour in some patients -- in which he was critical about the role of pharmaceutical companies in suppressing negative research findings.

Healy is the author of The Antidepressant Era and The Creation of Psychopharmacology, and a frequent expert witness in legal cases involving pharmaceutical companies and selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), the class of drugs that includes Prozac.

A joint statement by Healy, CAMH and the university says that "although Dr. Healy believes that his clinical appointment was rescinded because of his November 30, 2000 speech at CAMH, Dr. Healy accepts assurances that pharmaceutical companies played no role in either CAMH's decision to rescind his clinical appointment or the University of Toronto's decision to rescind his academic appointment following upon the rescission of his clinical appointment."

Healy has kept his position as head of the psychopharmacology department at the University of North Wales, but will come to work for a week each year with students at the University of Toronto.

Jean Simpson, executive vice president and chief operating officer at CAMH, says the parties have agreed not to discuss any details of the mediation or settlement.

"We're especially pleased that Dr. Healy accepted our assurance that the drug companies played no role in our decision to rescind his clinical appointment," Simpson says.

Dr. Healy could not be reached for comment.

The Canadian branch of the company that makes Prozac, pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, contributed over $50,000 to the CAMH foundation between April 1, 2000 and March 31, 2001. It says it does not get involved in the employment decisions of its grant recipients. But earlier, it withdrew a donation to a U.S. centre after it published articles -- including one by Healy -- that made criticisms of Prozac and other SSRIs.

 

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