Earlier this month, we wrote about the Food and Drug Administration’s questionable decision to approve opioid painkillers for patients as young as 11 years old. Although doctors have already been prescribing drugs to young patients at their own discretion, drug companies were not allowed to market drugs for these patients. So-called “off-label” prescribing is legal, but off-label advertising is not.
Companies that illegally market their pharmaceutical drugs can face hefty fines and even criminal charges. So why do so many companies do it anyway? The sad answer is that the profits they make far outweigh the costs of fines and litigation.
A particularly egregious example of this problem is the way that Johnson & Johnson benefitted from off-label marketing of its antipsychotic drug Risperdal. The drug was approved in 1994 to treat schizophrenia in adults. Johnson & Johnson wanted a larger market, so it began illegal and unethical efforts to market the drugs for treatment of elderly patients with dementia and children with autism.
Risperdal has been shown to cause strokes among elderly patients. And minor boys who take the drug sometimes grow very large breasts as a side effect. J&J tried to cover up these risks as it continued to bring in billions of dollars in annual sales. It even engaged in a kickback scheme to increase Risperdal prescriptions for nursing home patients.
The company was criminally charged and pled guilty. More than $2 billion has already been paid in penalties, and the company could pay as much as $6 billion by the time all legal claims have been settled. This may seem like a lot of money until you hear that Risperdal has brought in nearly $30 billion in sales globally.
A recent New York Times article about this scandal quips that “crime pays, if you’re a major corporation.” This may be true, sadly. But that doesn’t means average Americans are powerless to seek compensation for their injuries. If you have been seriously injured by a dangerous drug or medical device, please discuss your case with an experienced personal injury attorney.