Victims of obsessive-compulsive disorder, a mental illness that puts people at the mercy of their irrational thoughts and ritualistic behavior, are being sought to participate in a medication study at the University of Utah Health Sciences Center.

The U. is one of eight academic medical centers nationwide involved in testing the drug Prozac, manufactured by Eli Lily & Co., on obsessive-compulsive disordered patients. Volunteers will be screened by a psychologist and psychiatrists in the Mood Disorders Clinic.The clinic was established eight years ago at the U. School of Medicine to evaluate new medications not yet available to the public. The clinic is involved in ongoing studies of medications for biological depression and anxiety, and also is conducting a study using light therapy in the treatment of winter, or seasonal depression.

"Obsessions are recurrent thoughts, ideas or images, and compulsions are repetitive senseless rituals," said Joanne Brown, clinic program coordinator. "These images or acts are very intrusive, and are devastatingly disruptive to the lives of the victims and their families."

Brown added, "We've all heard stories about repetitive hand-washers, people who check their doors and windows over and over again to make sure they're locked, and compulsive house-cleaners. These people are unable to trust their own senses and when they do try to resist the aberrant thoughts or behaviors, they feel guilty."

Brown estimates that about 2 percent of Americans - some 4 million to 6 million people - suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder. It runs in families, and is frequently accompanied by depression.

"Early clinical trials of anti-depressant drugs have shown promise in treating obsessive-compulsive disorder," she said. "Prozac has been approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration for use in treating depression and appears to be successful in that use. We believe that it could offer hope in the treatment of OCD as well."

Volunteers for the U. study must be at least 18 years old. They will receive a free physical and psychological examination, laboratory tests and medication, and will be expected to come to the university every other week for 13 weeks to have their progress on the drug monitored. Pregnant women and people who have used Prozac in the treatment of depression are ineligible for the study.

For more information call the U. Mood Disorders Clinic, 581-8806.