In what’s considered one of the country’s largest health care fraud settlements and one of the largest whistleblower payouts in U.S. history, Johnson & Johnson will pay $2.2 billion to settle charges involving the company’s role in marketing three prescription drugs for unapproved uses. As the saying goes, “But wait. There’s more.”
Johnson & Johnson, along with two subsidiaries, Janssen Pharmaceuticals and Scios, also paid kickbacks to doctors and nursing homes who touted their drugs, created “ElderCare Sales Forces” who were paid to push the drug and sent pharmacists to hospitals to assess patient records.
Three drugs inappropriately marketed and given to patients
The case involves false marketing and other claims regarding Risperdal, an FDA-approved drug specifically for the use of schizophrenia. However, it was marketed by Johnson & Johnson to nursing home professionals and physicians for treating patients with dementia. In other cases, another antipsychotic drug, Invega, was also inappropriately marketed and prescribed.
Additionally, Natrecor, an FDA-approved drug for people with heart failure, was marketed and ultimately given to patients. However, it was given to people who had significantly less severe heart failure that did not render it necessary to take the drug in the first place.
According to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Johnson & Johnson and the two subsidiaries “lined their pockets at the expense of American taxpayers, patients and the private insurance industry.” He goes on to say that they “recklessly put at risk the health of some of the most vulnerable members of our society including young children, the elderly and the disabled.”
Big pharma trust still remains in question
Johnson & Johnson’s now-CEO Alex Gorskey, in an effort to move forward post-settlement, promises to provide patients worldwide with innovative solutions. However, the optimistic words evoke concerns for many, including Patrick Burns, co-director of the advocacy group Taxpayers Against Fraud. “Stockholders and patients will pay the price for the fraud,” he says. “Mr. Gorsky, however, gets to keep his job at Johnson & Johnson and all his bonuses.”
“This is a gigantic settlement that reflects the seriousness of the criminal and civil allegations against J&J over Risperdal and the other drugs,” says Carl Tobias, who teaches product-liability law at the University of Richmond law school.
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