Anti-depression drug Prozac will come under searching examination in Leeds this week at an inquest into the death of a top professor's wife.
Librarian and researcher Wendy Hay, 52, of north Leeds was found hanged in September last year
It will be the first time in Britain that such a high-level public hearing will examine the safety of the drug.
Professor Alistair Hay, head of environmental toxicology at Leeds University and one of the West's top experts in chemical and biological warfare, will tell the inquest that he believes treatment with the "happy pill" Prozac played a large part in the death of his wife.
Giving supportive evidence at the inquest will be Clive Adams, professor of adult psychiatry at Leeds University and one of the world's acknowledged experts on Prozac, and David Healy, consultant clinical psychologist at the University of Bangor.
Prof Hay will tell the inquest that his monitoring of his wife's mood swings during her treatment prove that the drug Prozac caused suicidal surges, which eventually led to her death.
He has since carried out his own studies into the drug. "I believe the doses used in this country and the blanket treatment of patients is unwise," he said.
The manufacturer of Prozac, Eli Lilly, has engaged a top barrister to represent them in Leeds. In a statement from its US headquarters the firm said: "Depression is a serious, life-threatening medical condition characterized by a variety of symptoms. Suicidal thinking and suicidal acts are symptoms of depression – they are caused by the disease, not by the medicines used to treat it. There is no credible scientific evidence that establishes a causal connection between Prozac and violent or suicidal behaviour.
"In fact, scientific evidence shows that Prozac and other anti-depressant medications appear to reduce these behaviours.
"The safety of Prozac is thoroughly documented. More than 40m patients worldwide have taken Prozac since it first came on the market in Belgium in 1986 and more than 12,000 patients have participated in Prozac clinical trials. Thousands of scientific papers have referenced Prozac, making it among the most studied medications in history."
The inquest comes just two weeks after the British Government announced that a major inquiry is to be launched into the safety of widely prescribed anti-depressant drugs, including Seroxat and Prozac, following a spate of suicides and reports of severe withdrawal reactions.
The Government's medical advisers have caved in to pressure to hold a fully independent assessment of the risks associated with the anti-depressants known as SSRIs, or selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors.
They were responding to reports of suicides among patients taking the medication, as well as users describing nightmares, tremors and feelings of violence.
An expert group of the Committee on the Safety of Medicines will listen to first-hand experiences, and investigate reports of suicidal behaviour.
02 June 2003