Jury Orders Drugmaker to Pay $257 Million to State for Improper Marketing Practices

A Louisiana jury in mid-October issued a $257.7 million verdict against Janssen Pharmaceutica, Inc. and its parent company, Johnson & Johnson, finding that the drugmaker misled Louisiana doctors about possible side effects of its antipsychotic drug Risperdal. See Caldwell ex rel. State of Louisiana v. Janssen Pharmaceutica, Inc., 04-C-3967, 27th Judicial Court, St. Landy Parish, Louisiana. Businessweek reports that the basis of the suit, which was initiated by the state’s attorney general, was that J&J officials wrongfully touted its drug as superior to competing antipsychotic drugs and attempted to minimize its links to diabetes.

The state’s case was based on claims that J&J and Janssen sent 7,604 “Dear Doctor” letters to Louisiana medical providers and made a total of 27,542 sales calls, in which company representatives claimed that Risperdal was safer than competing antipsychotic drugs such as Eli Lilly’s Zyprexa and AstraZeneca’s Seroquel. (See our previous post here, where we took a look at the litigation involving claims that AstraZeneca failed to warn users of the diabetes risks associated with its antipsychotic drug.) The state’s local NBC news affiliate reported that J&J’s statements were in violation of the state’s Medical Assistance Programs Integrity Law (MAPIL), which requires that the attorney general protect medical assistance programs from companies that engage in fraud, misrepresentation, or other improper practices to obtain payments for which they are not entitled.

According to an article at Law360, which explores a bit of the history of lawsuits against J&J involving improper marketing practices, the jury in the present case issued penalties of $7,250 for each of J&J’s 35,542 alleged violations of the MAPIL, which amounted to one of the largest verdicts in the history of the state. Patrick Morrow of the Opelousas law firm of Morrow, Morrow, Ryan and Bassett, which actually tried the case on behalf of the state, said of the verdict: “You can’t come into Louisiana and disseminate false and misleading information.”

Although J&J has denied any wrongdoing in connection with these claims, this verdict certainly will have a lasting impact on the way drugmakers market their products to doctors and medical professionals.

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