How Far Will They Go? Risperdal Settlement Reveals Extent to Which Powerful Pharmaceutical Companies Are Willing to Risk Lives

November 6, 2013  |  Dangerous Drugs & Devices, Pharmaceuticals

"If it’s made by a legitimate company then it has to be safe, right?"

WRONG.

Each week we bring you news about pharmaceutical lawsuits such as Lipitor, Transvaginal Mesh and GranuFlo. But this week there is a new settlement that is being discussed (thankfully!) on trusted media outlets like the New York Times, CNN and the Washington Post. This settlement is one of many true stories that cause us all to stop and remember: just because we can buy it, doesn’t always mean we can trust it.

The story involves those we hold nearest and dearest – our children and our elderly. You see, the pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson didn’t hold them so dearly. Instead, it seems that Johnson & Johnson thought more along the lines of: our nation’s children and elderly are a market we can take advantage of.

If the name Johnson & Johnson sounds familiar to you, that’s because it’s everywhere.

Johnson & Johnson is a company so large and powerful, its scope is close to unbelievable. Tylenol, Neosporin, Neutrogenia, Nicoderm, Listerine, Splenda, Band-Aid and Johnson’s baby products are just a few of the names in the behemoth’s arsenal.

Johnson & Johnson’s brand has been carefully cultivated over decades as a company you can trust. Which is why their blatant abuse of the vulnerable worries us.

Here’s what the Risperdal settlement revealed, in a nutshell.

One of Johnson & Johnson’s many company divisions makes a pharmaceutical product named Risperdal, an antipsychotic drug intended for the treatment of schizophrenia. However, as any undergraduate in business school will tell you, the bigger the market, the bigger the profit. And so Johnson & Johnson branched out, marketing the antipsychotic drug to two new customer bases: caretakers responsible for elderly patients (they were told that Risperdal could help manage dementia patient’s less welcome symptoms like confusion and angry outbursts) and doctors treating children who struggled with similar emotional upsets.

Despite the Federal Drug Administration’s repeated rejections of Johnson & Johnson’s attempts to expand the drug’s use to older dementia patients, the company created a dedicated sales force called ElderCare. And you can guess what drug they pushed.

As a result of this calculated marketing abuse by Johnson & Johnson, both elderly and young patients were put unnecessarily in harm’s way while profits soared. For example, in 2004 alone Risperdal brought in $3.1 billion in sales.

Yesterday’s announcement that Johnson & Johnson has agreed to pay more than $2.2 billion in criminal and civil fines is the culmination of a decade-long effort by the federal government to hold Johnson & Johnson accountable.

The settlement was a big win for all of us who find the need to pop a pill here and there.

It was also a warning: just because a venerable pharmaceutical company makes a drug does not mean that we should blindly swallow.

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