Pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson and one of its subsidiaries, Janssen Pharmaceuticals (JPI), recently pled guilty to criminal charges and agreed to pay more than $1.67 billion in criminal and civil fines for violating the law in its sales of Risperdal (risperidone), an FDA-approved medication for treatment of schizophrenia.
The defendants entered the pleas to resolve multiple allegations of misbranding and filing false claims for the medication and marketing it for non FDA-approved uses, which, of course, opened up new, illegal revenue streams to feed corporate profits.
It didn’t take long for the government heavies to weigh in on the public’s behalf while patting themselves on the back:
This from the nation’s top law enforcement official:
“The conduct at issue in this case jeopardized the health and safety of patients and damaged the public trust,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. “This multibillion-dollar resolution demonstrates the Justice Department’s firm commitment to preventing and combating all forms of health care fraud. And it proves our determination to hold accountable any corporation that breaks the law and enriches its bottom line at the expense of the American people.”
And this from a U.S. Food and Drug Administration executive:
“When pharmaceutical companies ignore the FDA’s requirements, they not only risk endangering the public’s health but also damaging the trust that patients have in their doctors and their medications,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D. “The FDA relies on data from rigorous scientific research to define and approve the uses for which a drug has been shown to be safe and effective. Today’s announcement demonstrates that pharmaceutical manufacturers that ignore the FDA’s regulatory authority do so at their own peril.”
Well, the reality is that while $1.67 billion sounds like a lot of money it’s a drop in the bucket for some of the sales figures that Johnson & Johnson and other pharmaceutical companies have rung up through questionable or illegal sales practices. And it likely won’t be the last.
Johnson & Johnson and other large pharmaceuticals have a long history of being slapped with seemingly huge fines but they’re still generating even bigger profits and making their investors happy on Wall Street.
The non-profit consumer group Public Citizen put things in perspective in an editorial in response to a $3 billion fine paid by another pharmaceutical giant, GlaxoSmithKline for illegal activity in its drug sales practices:
“Last month’s announcement of the largest health fraud settlement ever reached between a pharmaceutical company and the federal and state governments demonstrates that despite the seemingly large sums, the fines imposed on pharmaceutical companies for dangerous and illegal conduct pale in comparison to the profits generated from such activity. The industry is therefore tacitly encouraged to continue its illegal activity.”
Public Citizen also offered a solution that is likely never to be enacted: If harmed from Risperdal and have gynecomastia find out your rights.
“Until more meaningful penalties and the prospect of jail time for company executives who are responsible for such activity become commonplace, companies will continue defrauding the government and putting patients’ lives in danger.”