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Drug Firm's Visit to School Prompts Inquiry by F.D.A.

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is looking into an incident last fall at a Maryland high school in which Eli Lilly & Company sales representatives passed out materials promoting the company's antidepressant Prozac.

Frank Masci, the principal of Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, Md., said last week that F.D.A. officials visited the school twice last month after an article on the incident appeared in The Washington Post.

An F.D.A. spokesman said he could not deny that an inquiry was under way, but he would not characterize its focus or scale.

The Eli Lilly representatives went to the school on Oct. 6 as part of National Depression Screening Day, an educational effort sponsored by such organizations as the National Institute of Mental Health and the American Psychiatric Association.

Only about six schools--most in the District of Columbia--were among the 2,000 screening sites last fall, said Barbara Kopans, the associate director of the Massachusetts-based National Depression Screening Day Project.

An education grant from Eli Lilly underwrites about half the cost of the event, she said.

At the Bethesda school, an Eli Lilly sales representative, who is also a psychiatric nurse, talked about depression at an assembly of about 700 students. The nurse did not mention Prozac during her presentation, Mr. Masci said.

After the assembly, the Eli Lilly representatives gave students brochures on depression and note pads and pens inscribed with the brand name Prozac, Mr. Masci said. Prozac is a drug widely prescribed to treat depression.

Against Policy

The actions at Walter Johnson High School represented an isolated incident that was "clearly against corporate policy," Victoria Murphy, an Eli Lilly spokeswoman, said last week.

The company will no longer allow its staff to participate in National Depression Screening Day activities, Ms. Murphy said.

The F.D.A. has guidelines for direct-to-consumer marketing, she said, and the materials passed out at Johnson High "are normally given by the sales representative to a health-care professional."

Ms. Murphy would not comment on any F.D.A. inquiry.

While most aspects of the event were educational and helpful to some students who later sought counseling, Mr. Masci said, school officials would never have given permission for commercial products to be promoted on campus.

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