Once More with Feeling - Johnson and Johnson Found Guilty, Fined $1.1 Billion

The latest legal black eye for giant pharmaceutical and device company Johnson and Johnson appeared in an Arkansas court room.  As documented by Bloomberg, via NJ.com,
Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay $1.1 billion by a state judge after an Arkansas jury found the company’s officials misled doctors and patients about the risks of the antipsychotic drug Risperdal.

Jurors in Little Rock yesterday said the company’s marketing campaign also violated consumer-protection laws. The panel deliberated about three hours before finding J&J and its Janssen unit engaged in 'false or deceptive acts' by sending a 2003 letter touting Risperdal as safer than competing drugs to more than 6,000 doctors across the state.

The prosecutors had alleged a variety of kinds of deceptions about Risperdal,
Along with contending that J&J and Janssen defrauded the Medicaid program by failing to properly outline the antipsychotic medicine’s risks, Arkansas officials alleged J&J officials deceptively marketed the drug as safer and better than competing medicines.

The state also argued the companies marketed the drug for 'unapproved uses, including various symptoms in children and the elderly' after being warned by federal authorities to halt such sales.

In summary,
Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said in an e- mailed statement that he sued because residents in the state deserved to be protected from 'fraud and deceptive practices.'

He said that jurors found 'Johnson & Johnson and Janssen Pharmaceuticals lied to patients and doctors because they cared more about profits than people.'

Bloomberg noted that
It’s the third jury verdict against J&J, the second-biggest maker of health products, in cases where states alleged it hid Risperdal’s risks and tricked Medicaid regulators into paying more than they should have for the medicine. Louisiana and South Carolina juries also found the company’s Risperdal marketing violated consumer-protection laws.

In fact, this is just the latest in a remarkable string of legal cases suggesting an ongoing pattern of unethical and illegal behavior by this very large health care corporation. As we wrote recently, this included
- Convictions in two different states in 2010 for misleading marketing of Risperdal, as noted above
- A guilty plea for misbranding Topamax in 2010
- Guilty pleas to bribery in Europe in 2011 by J+J's DePuy subsidiary
- A guilty plea for marketing Risperdal for unapproved uses in 2011 (see this link for all of the above)
- Accusations that the company, which makes smoking cessation products, participated along with tobacco companies in efforts to lobby state legislators (see post here)
- A guilty plea to misbranding Natrecor by J+J subsidiary Scios (see post here)
- More recently, in 2012, testimony in a trial of allegations of unethical marketing of the drug Risperdal (risperidone) by the Janssen subsidiary revealed a systemic, deceptive stealth marketing campaign that fostered suppression of research whose results were unfavorable to the company, ghostwriting, the use of key opinion leaders as marketers in the guise of academics and professionals, and intimidation of whistleblowers. After these revelations, the company abruptly settled the case (see post here).
- Most recently, there are reports that the company is in negotiation with the US Department of Justice to settle other lawsuits about the marketing of Risperdal, perhaps for as much as $1.8 billion (see this BusinessWeek story.)

Meanwhile, as we also discussed recently, Johnson and Johnson seems to have lost the ability to manufacture high quality products. It has had to make 30 separate product recalls since 2009. The latest was Liquid Infant Tylenol. (The current WSJ Health Blog list of recalls can be found here.)

So the real question here is how many instances of manufacturing of defective, mislabeled, contaminated, or harmful products, and how many court cases showing unethical or illegal behavior will it take until the leadership and governance of this company improves (and by extension, the leadership and governance of other large health care corporations with similar bad records improves).

As we posted not long ago, the CEO who presided over most of these messes will be allowed to retire with a huge golden parachute.  His devotion to "making the numbers," that is, hitting short-term revenue targets ahead of all other goals, probably had something to do with a company once thought of as a paragon of corporate behavior turning so bad.  Yet he became extremely rich doing this, and neither his riches nor his legal status have ever been challenged.  His successor apparently will be another former sales representative who may be just as devoted to "making the numbers,."  Thus has the business school dogma that short-term financial results, prettied up as "shareholder value," is the only thing that should matter to corporate leadership (look here) poisoned health care.

How many more doctors and patients have to be deceived, how many products have to be contaminated or defectively made before we demand better leadership of health care organizations?