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Johnson and Johnson Slammed with Lawsuits over Drug

Nnpa | 1/20/2012, 2:06 p.m.

It's been a bad couple of weeks for New Jersey-based drug maker Johnson and Johnson (J&J), as the pharmaceutical giant quietly settled a multibillion-dollar lawsuit and is reportedly bracing for an onslaught of others from thousands of recipients of a popular antibiotic that may have caused irreparable nerve damage and other serious injuries to patients, according to a report from a California-based investment firm that owns shares in the company.

The firm, Harrington Investments, which, according to its website, is a socially responsible investing firm and shareholder advocate with a "fiduciary duty to screen companies that show a strong commitment to their communities and invest in companies that respond to shareholder concerns," is about to file a proposal with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) requesting the agency address concerns about the drug Levaquin with its maker, J&J.

According to various reports, shareholders contend that J&J was negligent in properly warning patients about the adverse and long-term side effects of the drug. However, the company said it has increased warnings about the dangers of the drug since the Food Drug and Administration first approved it in 1996. This was due, at least in part, to an ever-increasing number of complaints about the drug and dozens of lawsuits.

A spokesman for J&J told Newark's Star-Ledger that the company has asked officials at the SEC to disqualify and dismiss the impending proposal from shareholders. Spokesman William Price said the company has repeatedly addressed the safety issues related to the drug, adding, "We're very sensitive to the issues." Levaquin was initially approved as a treatment for bacterial infections and belongs to a class of antibiotics called fluoroquinolones. In 2010, the drug generated more than $1.5 billion in worldwide sales.

Lastly, in a related matter, J&J has agreed to pay more than $1 billion to the United States and many states, including New York and New Jersey, in order to resolve an investigation into questionable marketing strategies of Risperdal, a popular antipsychotic medication, according to various published reports. Risperdal was approved in 1993 for the treatment of schizophrenia. However, J&J eventually tried to market the drug as a cure-all for other mental illnesses, including dementia, depression and bipolar disorder.

At the time, the expanded marketing effort and supposed added benefits of the drug were unproven and in noncompliance with some state and federal regulations and lawsuits were filed. A final settlement date has not been formerly announced by the Justice Department.

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