“When crime pays: J&J’s drug Risperdal,” was the title of a column by Nicholas Kristof
that explained the disfiguring side effects of Risperdal (risperidone), Johnson & Johnson’s billion-dollar antipsychotic medication. One dramatic effect is that Risperdal “can cause boys to grow large, pendulous breasts; one boy developed a 46DD bust,” a condition known as gynecomastia. Another serious side effect is that it can cause strokes in elderly patients.
The crime? Johnson & Johnson marketed Risperdal aggressively to the elderly and to boys while allegedly manipulating and hiding the data about breast development. When the drug manufacturer was hit by a lawsuit, it paid more than $2 billion in penalties and settlements. As Kristof pointed out, however, “that pales next to some $30 billion in sales of Risperdal around the world. In short, crime pays, if you’re a major corporation.” Indeed, the executive in charge of marketing the drug was promoted to CEO of Johnson & Johnson.
The FDA had said Risperdal was primarily effective for treating schizophrenia in adults, but J&J wanted a billion-dollar blockbuster. So the manufacturer marketed Risperdal as a drug for a range of problems, from seniors with dementia to children with autism.
In 2015, a victim of Risperdal, who had begun taking the drug at age 8 and grew breasts when he was a teenager, filed the first winning lawsuit against the company, securing a settlement of $2.5 million. By 2016, according to lawyersandsettlements.com
, litigation over Risperdal had become the second largest mass tort (behind Reglan). Today (as of January 2017), the Legal Intelligence
r reports that more than 31 percent of the collective mass tort docket is Risperdal lawsuits, up from 26 percent (an increase of 550 cases) in 2015. More than 2,000 are centralized in mass tort proceedings. One attorney representing plaintiffs said thousands more Risperdal claims are “waiting in the wings.”
An attorney who has filed hundreds of Risperdal lawsuits brought evidence that showed how J&J manipulated clinical trial data to downplay the risks of gynecomastia associated with Risperdal, as well as a taped deposition from former FDA Commissioner David Kessler stating that the manufacturer had downplayed the risk of gynecomastia by obscuring clinical evidence it supplied to the FDA.
The company’s behavior is shameless gross negligence. J&J still brings in billions of dollars in Risperdal sales each year. As Kristof foresaw, the company may view multi-million-dollar verdicts as no more than the cost of doing business, until the proliferation of lawsuits gets consumers’ attention and Risperdal sales start to drop. This is why these lawsuits are necessary. Companies will continue to sell products because their profits are greater than the money they pay out. If regulations don’t make companies withdraw dangerous products and dangerous drugs from the market, lawsuits that make it unprofitable to sell them may.
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