By Jefferey Jaxen
The headlines are eye-catching: a massive $8 billion legal loss for Johnson & Johnson. An astonishing figure, big enough to perhaps alert the public to the harmful effects of Risperdal.
Almost immediately after the court shellacking, Johnson & Johnson’s stock price dropped.
Financial analysts penned columns with their predictions and recommendations for investors. Some see the popular stock as a buying opportunity, but one must question the disaster-investing paradigm of putting money towards companies whose products and practices have harmed generations.
The antipsychotic medication Risperdal is manufactured by Janssen Pharmaceuticals, the drug development arm of Johnson & Johnson.
Before the recent trial verdict, Janssen already had a public black-eye for its recent $572 million legal loss in Oklahoma. Janssen was found to have caused the opioid epidemic in that state.
In 1993, Risperdal received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use by people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Since then, it’s been estimated to have made around $40 billion for Janssen.
Risperdal, and the antipsychotic medication class it belongs to, have been seen as a ‘chemical lobotomy’ since the 1950’s, due to the changes in brain chemistry they illicit and subsequent effects on users. Modern scientific literature has repeatedly found that, due in part to such severe adverse effects, antipsychotic drugs shorten the user’s lifespan by a decade or more.
Shortly after Risperdal’s approval in 1993, Massachusetts General Hospital chief of pediatric psychopharmacology, Joseph Biederman co-authored a controversial paper introducing the idea of antipsychotic drug use in children. Biedermnan’s paper titled “Is Your Child Bipolar?” claimed 16 percent of the children who came to the clinic met the criteria for [bipolar] mania.
From 1994 to 2003, Biederman’s work fueled a 40-fold increase in the diagnosis of pediatric bipolar disorder, and the subsequent rise in the practice subscribing antipsychotic medicines for children. Yet it was soon found that he and two of his child psychiatrist colleagues omitted conflicts of interest, having received $4.2M over seven years from antipsychotic drug makers – of which Johnson & Johnson was key.
Dr. Biederman pushed the company to finance a research center at Massachusetts General Hospital with a goal to “move forward the commercial goals of J.& J” court documents revealed.
Despite these revelations, America’s antipsychotic drug dispensing wheel hit runaway speed. By 2008 they became America’s best selling class of drugs, racking up $14.6 billion in sales.
Before the trend to target children with these medications bewitched the psychiatric profession, and even before Risperdal received FDA approval, Johnson & Johnson’s unethical efforts were active behind the scenes. The company understood that the dominant market for the drug would be the public sector – mental hospitals, outpatient clinics, nursing homes, jails, and prisons.They pounced.
In September 1992, a consulting firm gave Johnson & Johnson a blueprint it would later followed. The firm advised the drugmaker that between 60 and 80 percent of schizophrenia medications were paid for by state mental health and Medicaid programs, making it the prime target of promotional activity.
On the strength of this information Johnson & Johnson used unethical marketing, influenced decision-makers and politicians, and helped create guidelines to funnel institutionalized members of society to their drug – namely foster children.
There was just one problem, Risperdal wasn’t approved for children. But that didn’t stop Johnson & Johnson.
It was whistleblower Allen Jones who found Johnson & Johnson was providing kickbacks to state officials (among other wards of the state) to help push its higher-priced antipsychotic drugs to foster children, through taxpayer-funded Medicaid programs.
In Texas, the attorney general turned that information into a $158 million payment from Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen subsidiary.
Several other states followed the blueprint, and won, with their legal action against the drug maker. A class action suit is nearing its conclusion on behalf of five children ages 2-14 that claimed Missouri Department of Social Services officials had overused the drugs on foster children, and exposed them to “unreasonable risk of serious physical and psychological harm.”
Despite the known harms of the drug in adults and children, the FDA approved Risperdal in 2007 for the treatment of schizophrenia for ages 13-17, and for the short-term treatment of bipolar mania in children and adolescents ages 10-17.
The FDA’s approval did little to deflect attention away from Johnson & Johnson’s unethical targeting of children. In 2013 Johnson & Johnson agreed to pay more than $2.2 billion in criminal and civil fines to settle accusations that it improperly promoted the antipsychotic drug Risperdal to older adults, children and people with developmental disabilities.
Johnson & Johnson faces more than 13,000 lawsuits tied to Risperdal alleging that it caused a condition called gynecomastia in boys, in which breast tissue becomes enlarged. The drug side effect is just one of several harms with active litigation involving Risperdal.
There is no shortage of claims that psychiatry’s long, hard embrace of dangerous antipsychotics is gross scientific misconduct.
A 2015 report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found 92 percent of foster care and disadvantaged kids prescribed antipsychotics don’t have any of the limited “medically accepted pediatric conditions” supposedly justifying their use.
The health and research communities are increasingly sounding the alarm on antipsychotics. A 2018 research article titled Psychiatric Drugging of Children and Youth as a Form of Child Abuse: Not a Radical Proposition lays out compelling evidence that current consciousness needs to rapidly change and lawsuits need to be filed at all levels.
Knowing Johnson & Johnson’s legacy concerning Risperdal – just one of several products under legal and ethical scrutiny, would you invest in their company to make a profit?