Legal eagle Steven Brill’s deeply reported investigation of how consumer giant Johnson & Johnson developed, illegally promoted and hid the side effects of the powerful drug Risperdal is another enlightening indictment of everything that’s wrong with the medical-industrial complex in general, and with the pharmaceutical industry in particular.
You might remember Brill’s cover story in Time a couple of years ago about the runaway cost of medical care in this country, and why it’s a safety as well as financial problem. Published on the Huffington Post, his latest work, he writes, “is the backstage story of how an iconic company marketed a blockbuster drug that raised … hopes and fed on … anxiety. It is a story that in its depiction of strategies, tactics and mindset should make us wonder about the prescription drugs that are so much a part of our lives.”
Risperdal is an antipsychotic drug that can have serious side effects, especially for the elderly and for boys. Still, J&J aggressively promoted it for those groups while it was concealing data that showed the severity of the harms. The company got caught, and paid more than $2 billion in penalties and settlements. But its profits add up to about $30 billion.
Every U.S. medical consumer should understand the import of the many questions Brill asks, including:
Amid the swirl of multi-billion dollar takeover deals generated by the prospects of a promising new drug, can we trust these companies? Can the data from the trials conducted to test their products that they submit to the Food and Drug Administration be trusted? Can we rely on corporations that are looking over their shoulders at Wall Street not to inflate revenue by selling a drug to people that the FDA has walled off as targets or for purposes that have not been sufficiently tested and for which the FDA has not granted approval?
Or are the lawsuits like those brought against Johnson & Johnson and other drug companies less about corporate wrongdoing and more about trial lawyers and whistleblowers (who get paid a portion of the winnings) looking for a payoff when drugs that comfort or even save the many result in side effects that afflict the few?
Brill’s thorough analysis is being rolled out on HuffPo chapter by chapter. Start reading here.