Johnson & Johnson CEO Weldon: “We’ve learned our lesson”. Have they?

Johnson & Johnson CEO says his company has been humbled by all of their recalls, and are on the way to fixing their troubles. That’s a lot of fixing to do.

In an AP interview with J&J head honcho William Weldon prior to his upcoming presentation to investors at the his shareholders’ meeting, the CEO of one of America’s most storied companies defended his company’s honor, holding the line that the problems caused by the many, many recalls of its products are mostly behind them.  The myriad of problems were well chronicled in this month’s excellent BusinessWeek article, aptly titled “Johnson & Johnson’s Quality Catastrophe.  All told, the documented recalls and problematic devices, drugs, and children’s medicines have affected the lives of thousands.  These problems range from a smelly jar of kid’s medicines to life-destroying crippling of active seniors.  Specifically, these troubles include:
  • DePuy ASR and ASR-XL Systems: J&J’s (through it’s DePuy subsidiary) metal-on-metal hip implant lines ASR and ASR-XL are just the most recent (and possibly most devastating) recall to affect the Johnson & Johnson legacy.  Defective hips were inserted into possibly tens of thousands of Americans — many after J&J had already been forced to halt using these devices in other countries due to serious safety concerns.  So while J&J were forced to act responsibly in other countries, Americans continued to get the faulty hip systems. Estimates put the potential early failure rate of these hip replacement models at almost 50%.  To further complicate matters, studies suggest that a likely cause of these failures is that the metal-on-metal device rubs the wrong way, resulting in metal shavings entering the bloodstream.  These metals, which include carcinogenic cobalt and chromium, threaten ASR and ASR-XL recipients with metallosis, cobalt poisoning, chromium poisoning, and even cancer.  Learn more about DePuy ASR and ASR-XL lawsuits here.
  • Levaquin: J&J’s (through its subsidiary Ortho-McNeil) blockbuster antibiotic Levaquin is at the center of thousands of lawsuits.  The drug, which is a very strong and very effective antibiotic, has been increasingly used as a “first-defense” medication, when other antibiotics would have sufficed.  This meant two things:  First, the drug would put $20 plus per pill into J&J’s coffers (versus the fraction that other antibiotics — which are generic — would cost).  Second, it put these consumers at risk of Levaquin’s very real side effects.  Tens of thousands of consumers have reported that they had developed tendonitis, torn ligament, or ruptured tendons.  This effect is most severe in people over 60 years old and people concurrently taking steroids.  Ortho-McNeil did its best to downplay this relationship, but lost big in the first of thousands of Levaquin lawsuits to go to trial.
  • Motrin: In an almost farcical scene out of a movie, in 2008 J&J sent its employees and contractors out to retain stores to buy up all the Motrin it could get their hands on.  They began removing defective supplies of the popular painkiller from store shelves in an effort to do a stealth recall.  Months later, the company nonetheless decided to let the public in on these problems and issued a public recall.
  • Tylenol: Ortho-McNeil recalled about 6.3 million bottles of tainted Tylenol Arthritis Pain caplets in November 2009.  These were manufactured in its plant in its troublesome Puerto Rico.  The tainted drugs had a pungent odor, which was later attributed to chemicals used to treat wood.  This plant now remains closed until it can pass regulatory muster.
  • Recall Mania!: In just this past fiscal quarter alone, J&J withdrew over half a million surgical sutures due to concerns about compromised sterile packaging, (through its Animas subsidiary) recalled 384,000 insulin-pump cartridges that may leak, and recalled 70,000 potentially cracked syringes preloaded with the antipsychotic Invega, and withdrew 43 million bottles of Rolaids, Tylenol, Benadryl, and Sinutab.

So, now Johnson & Johnson says their problems are behind them.  We hope so.  They have shuffled management and issued new safety guidelines.  But with $28 Billion in cash, J&J undoubtedly has the power to withstand any nuisances that these recalls and lawsuits may cause their balance sheets. William Weldon still has his job.  Maybe one of these recalls has finally got his attention, and that they put product safety on par with corporate profits.

On April 27, 2011, Johnson & Johnson announced its purchase of Synthes, a medical-device maker for a reported $20 Billion.  The deal will leave J&J controlling over 50% of the global market for products used in treating traumatic injury (such as discs, screws and rods to piece together broken bones).  The new J&J would then be twice the size of its nearest competitor in these orthopaedic implants.  We hope they’re more careful with their new products.
If you or a loved one has been affected by a DePuy ASR or ASR-XL recall or one of the other recalled J&J products and would like to learn more about your legal rights, contact the lawyers at Slater, Slater, Rosenberger & Schulman, P.C. at 1-800-251-6990 or for a free case evaluation today. Slater, Slater, Rosenberger & Schulman, P.C., with offices in New York and Melville, Long Island, is a full service law firm dedicated to representing clients across the country in products liability, pharmaceutical and other litigation.
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