Alex Gorsky, CEO of consumer health care giant Johnson & Johnson, raked in $25 million last year, a hefty reward for years of questionable marketing of the company’s blockbuster antipsychotic Risperdal.
The ills of Johnson & Johnson are being laid out by Steven Brill in a dramatic 58,000-word docu-serial published in parts by the Huffington Post. It has spurred newspaper stories and stirred up rumblings in Congress. But the details of how the company’s executives have profited are heart wrenching.
Risperdal, which contains the drug ingredient risperidone, is approved to treat symptoms of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and irritability with autism. In 2006, it was first approved for pediatric patients. However, long before the drug was approved for children, the drug company pushed its sales force to market the drug for uses for which it was not approved, such as a treatment for children with various behavioral disorders and elderly patients with dementia.
Doctors have the discretion to prescribe drugs for unapproved uses, but drug companies are forbidden from promoting medication for off-label uses. The problem? Side effects.
Johnson & Johnson formed a sales team called ElderCare, which targeted nursing homes and senior citizens for off-label sales of Risperdal for the treatment of dementia. When the FDA caught wind of the issue, the agency revealed “an excessive number of deaths” among the elderly who were treated with the drug.
At the same time, Johnson & Johnson was also targeting pediatricians, peddling Risperdal as a treatment for children and adolescents for conditions including schizophrenia to ADHD. Though the drug was eventually approved for use in children with schizophrenia and other psychiatric conditions, what Johnson & Johnson masterfully covered up was data about adverse effects specific to children.
Risperdal can increase levels of the hormone prolactin, the same hormone that encourages lactation in pregnant women and women who recently have given birth. Many boys and young men taking Risperdal developed breasts – in one case as large as 46DD – a condition known as gynecomastia.
Johnson & Johnson has shelled out billions in penalties and legal fees over its corrupt marketing practices, but it hardly compares to the $30 billion in sales Risperdal generates worldwide. And it seemingly has little effect on the $25 million its CEO earned last year alone.
Source: NY Times