Will Woody Johnsons New York Jets Fare Better in Today’s Playoff Game Than His Pharmaceutical Company Did on Friday?

This afternoon the Jets face the San Diego Chargers for the chance to play the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship Game. The Jets and their fans go into the game brimming with confidence and excitement. Butin a complaint filed Friday by the U.S. Attorney in Boston, prosecutors alleged that health care giant Johnson & Johnson paid tens of millions of dollars in kickbacks so nursing homes would improperly medicate more patients on Risperdal, a powerful schizophrenia medicine, and other drugs – prescription pain relievers Duragesic and Ultram, and the antibiotic Levaquin. Although approved for treating schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder, Risperdal is not approved for use in elderly patients with dementia but is, nonetheless, administered to just such patients.

Also on Friday, Johnson & Johnson issued a massive recall of over-the-counter drugs including regular and extra-strength Tylenol, children’s Tylenol, eight-hour Tylenol, Tylenol arthritis, Tylenol PM, children’s Motrin, Motrin IB, Benadryl Rolaids, Simply Sleep, and St. Joseph’s aspirin because of a moldy smell that has made people sick. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said about 70 people have been either sickened by the odor including nausea, stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhea or noticed it. The smell is caused by small amounts of a chemical associated with the treatment of wooden pallets that can leach into the air. The FDA said McNeil-PPC, the Johnson and Johnson division that manufactured the recalled products, knew of the problem in early 2008.

It was the second such recall in less than a month because of the smell. Federal regulators criticized the company, saying it didn’t respond to the complaints quickly enough, wasn’t thorough in how it handled the problem and didn’t inform the Food and Drug Administration quickly. In the Risperdal matter, prosecutors said J&J paid rebates and other forms of kickbacks to Omnicare Inc., the country’s biggest dispenser of prescription drugs in nursing homes, whose pharmacists then recommended that nursing home patients with signs of Alzheimer’s disease be put on the powerful schizophrenia drug Risperdal.

The complaint charges that Omnicares pharmacists engaged in intensive efforts to persuade physicians to prescribe the drugs from 1999 to 2004, a period in which the pharmacys annual purchase of Johnson & Johnson medications nearly tripled to more than $280 million, from about $100 million. During the same period, the pharmacys annual purchase of Risperdal rose to more than $100 million. Risperdal has been found to increase risk of death in the elderly, and has side effects such as significant lethargy, permanent involuntary muscle movements (Tardive dyskinesia) and seizures, and makes them more likely to fall. There are reports of injuries being sustained after multiple falls. In 2005, the F.D.A. required that the labels of certain antipsychotic drugs, including Risperdal, carry a black box warning label that elderly people with dementia-related psychosis treated with such drugs were at an increased risk of death compared with those taking a placebo.

Research by Christie Teigland, director of information research for the New York Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, a not-for-profit industry group, shows that about one-third of dementia patients in New York’s nursing homes are on antipsychotics; some facilities have rates as high as 60% to 70%. Dr. David Graham, an FDA scientist has said that he estimated that there are thousands of nursing home resident fatalities annually over antipsychotics being administered unnecessarily and to patients who are not diagnosed with any mental illness. Regulations exist to protect nursing home residents from medication mismanagement, like being sedated with psychiatric drugs for the purposes of discipline or convenience.

The Department of Health and Human Services requires nursing homes to arrange for an outside consulting pharmacist to review a patients medication regimen at least once a month. But according to the governments complaint Omnicares consultant pharmacists, the very people entrusted by the government with safeguarding the integrity of nursing home drug prescriptions, worked to increase Risperdals market share.

The allegations in the complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney in Boston joined two whistle-blower cases-one by a former Omnicare pharmacist in who alleges he was fired after he challenged the Risperdal kickbacks and other improper practices at the company, and the other was by former Omnicare financial analyst after he resigned from the company in 2005. Its especially heart-wrenching to see the elderly, who are so vulnerable to abuse, being taken advantage of.

It brings to mind the case a few years ago of Dr. Martin Ehrenberg-a board-certified ophthalmologist whose medical license suspended by the New York Department of Health Office of Professional Medical Conduct for performing unnecessary laser eye surgeries on at least six of his patients. The six patients were falsely diagnosed with ailments including diabetic retinopathy, a disease of the retina brought on by diabetes; wet macular degeneration, in which fluid leaks into the back of the eye; and cataracts.

The lawyers at Levine & Slavit have decades of experience handling personal injury claims including those involving neglect or abuse at nursing homes. These cases can involve the deprivation of the nursing home residents civil rights, enabling recovery of attorneys fees and possibly punitive damages pursuant to Article 28 of the Public Health Law. For 50 years spanning 3 generations, we have obtained results for satisfied clients. We have offices in Manhattan and Long Island, handling cases in New York City, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and surrounding areas. To learn more, contact the personal injury lawyers at Levine & Slavit for their help, or watch our videos.

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