I’ve written here before about the problems with illegal marketing of dangerous prescription drugs. Prescription drug makers eager to rake in profits have been caught promoting their drugs for off-label uses, which is against the law, and even paying illegal kickbacks to pharmacists or doctors. Both allegations were made against drug manufacturer Johnson & Johnson, which allegedly promoted three drugs illegally. These include Risperdal, an antipsychotic widely prescribed off-label for use in dementia patients; Invega, another antipsychotic; and heart drug Natrecor. The federal government was pursing criminal and civil investigations into the illegal marketing, but announced this month that it would instead settle with Johnson & Johnson for $2.2 billion. The money settles claims that the company defrauded government health programs for huge amounts of money and put many patients’ lives at risk.
The off-label marketing allegations concern Risperdal and Natrecor, but the Risperdal allegations are particularly well known because the alleged illegal marketing was very widespread. From 1999 to 2005, Reuters reported, Johsnon & Johnson subsidiary Janssen promoted Risperdal for controlling aggression and anxiety in elderly dementia patients, children and the disabled. This was an off-label use that nursing home patient advocates call a form of “chemical restraint” that leaves the patient unable to function. Perhaps even more disturbingly, studies showed that Risperdal was associated with an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes in the elderly. That meant that the unnecessary Risperdal could actually have caused premature deaths. It also cost hundreds of millions of dollars to the federal government, through its medical coverage programs. Some families are now pursuing pharmaceutical liability claims related to Risperdal.
The same settlement covered allegations that Johnson & Johnson paid millions in kickbacks to Omnicare, Inc., a large pharmacy company that specializes in distributing drugs to nursing homes. Under names like “educational funding,” the government said, Johnson & Johnson actually paid Omnicare to encourage nursing home patients to buy Johnson & Johnson drugs. The kickbacks themselves were illegal, of course, and the promotion of the drugs put patients at risk of dangerous side effects even though they didn’t truly need the drugs. The FDA had repeatedly warned Johnson & Johnson about the misleading marketing before the Justice Department filed its complaint. Johnson & Johnson said the settlement is not an admission that it did anything wrong, and that it expressly denies the civil allegations.
The article goes on to discuss other very large settlements paid by drug makers for off-label or otherwise misleading marketing. Though $2.2 billion is indeed a lot of money, I wonder whether it actually serves the purpose of discouraging drug makers from engaging in misleading marketing practices. The article notes that Johnson & Johnson saw very little penalty in the stock market, and other companies that have had to pay these settlements do not appear to be hurting. Meanwhile, thousands of families could have lost loved ones or suffered serious health problems from unnecessary Risperdal. To be made whole, those families should consider whether it makes sense to pursue their own defective drug lawsuits.
If your family has suffered a serious injury or a loss because of a drug you thought you could trust, you should contact Carey, Danis & Lowe to discuss a lawsuit. For a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 1-877-678-3400 or send us a message online.
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