Steve Brill has joined with The Huffington Post to write an in depth expose of one of the most egregious cases of corporate greed perhaps since “A Civil Action.” Read the report.
The editors describe the 15-part series:
At some point over the course of this massive, magisterial 15-chapter story, you will get angry, and you will stay angry. It may happen when you learn that Johnson & Johnson handed out promotional Legos to pediatricians so that they’d be more likely to prescribe a drug called Risperdal to children with behavioral problems, although the FDA had repeatedly told the company not to market it to children. It may happen when you read that a team of scientists and company executives decided to massage the numbers on a study showing that Risperdal puts little boys at risk of developing large breasts—46DD breasts in the case of Austin Pledger, whom you can see in this video. Or it may happen at one of a few dozen other points in this 20-year history of the drug, which ended up being a blockbuster for J&J even if you account for $3 billion and counting in legal claims.
Johnson & Johnson is the biggest and, according to multiple surveys, most admired corporation in the world’s healthcare industry. Many Americans think of Band-Aids and Tylenol when J&J is considered. But 80 percent of its revenue and 91 percent of its profit comes not from those consumer favorites, but from Johnson & Johnson’s high-margin medical devices: artificial hips and knees, heart stents, surgical tools and monitoring devices; and from still higher-margin prescription drugs targeting Crohn’s disease (Remicade), cancer (Zytiga, Velcade), schizophrenia (Risperdal), diabetes (Invokana), psoriasis (Stelara), migraines (Topamax), heart disease (Xarelto) and attention deficit disorder (Concerta).
The Huffington Post expose focuses on the drug Risperdal, the Food and Drug Administration approved label limited Risperdal to the “management of manifestations of psychotic disorders” in adults—severe illnesses causing hallucinations or delusions. The FDA specified that the “antipsychotic efficacy of Risperdal was established in short term (6 to 8 weeks) controlled trials of schizophrenic patients.” Schizophrenics were only about a third of the psychotic disorders market, which was itself a small subset of the target population J&J hoped to target.
The FDA had prohibited Johnson & Johnson salespeople from trying to promote Risperdal to doctors to treat children because of its feared side effects, including hormonal disorders. The company was also not allowed to promote it to treat the elderly except for the most serious psychotic disorders; it was thought to cause strokes, diabetes and other ailments in that population.
But J&J developed a special sales force which successfully generated more than half of its Risperdal sales from prescriptions written for children to alleviate all kinds of behavior disorders, and for the elderly, who were given the drug for simple symptoms of dementia or restlessness.
Johnson & Johnson has already settled thousands of cases involving illicit promotion of Risperdal, including Department of Justice civil and criminal complaints, for a total fast approaching $3 billion.
And this corporate disregard for consumer safety is far from unique to J&J. Eight of the other nine largest pharmaceutical companies in the world have settled federal claims over the last decade related to allegations similar to what J&J was accused of in selling Risperdal, although, according to Brill, “their conduct was arguably less egregious.”