In one of the largest health care fraud settlements in U.S. history, Johnson & Johnson recently agreed to pay $2.2 billion for illegally marketing the drugs Risperdal, Invega and Natrecor. Whistleblower attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm are glad to see another pharmaceutical company paying for its illegal, fraudulent, and harmful marketing ploys. The lawsuit was filed based on violations of the False Claims Act, and was the result of a whistleblower coming forward with knowledge of the violations.
Whistleblower, or Qui Tam cases, allows ordinary citizens to file lawsuits when they know a company is defrauding the federal government. These citizens then receive between 15 and 30 percent of the settlement, which are usually quite large. Recent statistics show that the whistleblower collects an average of $1.167 million for reporting the fraud. In this case, the four whistleblowers will receive a shared award of $112 million.
Risperdal Sales Fraud
Risperdal is an atypical antipsychotic drug intended to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and irritability in autistic children. After an extensive investigation, the federal government charged Janssen, a J&J subsidiary, with misbranding the drug and recommending it be sold for ailments not approved by the FDA.
Specifically, Janssen’s sales representatives are charged with marketing the drug to treat elderly patients with dementia, despite clear and substantial evidence that this was unsafe and could lead to premature death. Eric Holder, the U.S. Attorney General, stated that Janssen knowingly and recklessly put elderly patient’s health and safety at risk in marketing the drug to dementia patients.
The settlement, which is the third-largest in U.S. pharmaceutical litigation history, requires J&J to plead guilty to a criminal misdemeanor and will resolve similar accusations regarding the drugs Natrecor and Invega. The criminal conduct occurred between 1999 and 2005, when company officials were attempting to expand the Risperdal market.
Chemically Restraining the Elderly
Elderly patients with dementia often display symptoms of psychiatric disorders, such as agitation, confusion, impulsiveness and hostility. The sales team at Janssen decided to capitalize on this market by creating a dedicated unit, ElderCare, to promote Risperdal and other similar drugs to doctors who treated the elderly.
Medicating dementia patients to subdue them or otherwise control their behavior is known as “chemical restraining” and is not only unconscionable but illegal as well. It is often done in nursing home facilities that are chronically understaffed, as employees feel they need to chemically subdue patients who require more care than others.
Despite numerous studies linking antipsychotic drug use to premature death in dementia patients, chemically restraining the elderly has been an incredibly common, though largely hidden, practice in American nursing homes. Over the past ten years, the federal government has made a concerted effort to identify and expose pharmaceutical companies that marketed antipsychotics to nursing home physicians.
Janssen is not the only company guilty of such malicious pursuit of profits. Since 2008, three other companies have pleaded guilty to similar antipsychotic misbranding allegations: Abbott (now AbbVie), for the marketing of Depakote; AstraZeneca, for the marketing of Seroquel; and Eli Lilly, for the marketing of Zyprexa. All of these cases resulted in massive settlements.
In addition to the dementia allegations, Janssen was also found guilty of marketing Risperdal to children and patients with mental disabilities. It was revealed during trial that sales representatives sought out child psychologists and mental health facilities to promote Risperdal for treatment of ADHD and OCD in children.
Whistleblower cases like this are imperative to protecting the health and safety of our nation’s most vulnerable populations, such as children, the elderly, and the mentally disabled. Qui Tam attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm urge anyone who suspects a company, person or entity is defrauding the federal government to come forward. We offer free legal consultations to potential clients nationwide.