Johnson & Johnson, the largest health products company in the world, will pay $1 billion to the United States government as well as most states in response to an agreement over the marketing of the hugely popular antipsychotic drug Risperdal. J&J came to an agreement with a U.S. attorney in a meeting conducted in Philadelphia, after the government concluded an ongoing investigation into how the company marketed the drug for unapproved uses.
Risperdal at one time was J&J’s best-selling drug, raking in over $24.2 billion in sales from 2003 to 2010. Following the mega sales, J&J lost patent protection and sales began to plummet. In comparison, the $1 billion fine is quite low. Numerically, it is equivalent to 31% of Risperdal’s peak sales in 2007.
While negotiations over a possible criminal plea are still in the process, J&J is one of many drug giants to receive minor fines for practices that threaten public health on a grand scale.
Drug Giants Routinely Issued Small Fines Over Threatening Public Health
What do J&J and Merck, a similarly-large drug giant have in common? Besides selling pharmaceuticals that damage your health, they have both been hit with fines overly falsely marketing top selling drugs. In November of 2011, Merck was slapped with a $950 criminal fine for falsely marketing Vioxx through false advertising and deceptive marketing tactics. It may seem like a lot, but the fine is very insignificant when considering the fact that Vioxx was linked to 27,000 heart attacks and sudden cardiac death. It wasn’t until 2004 that Merck pulled Vioxx off the market, meaning the drug has been approved for 5 years before Merck decided to act.
This means that Merck willingly ignored the thousands of deaths associated with Vioxx, and continued to heavily market the drug through false claims and deceptive advertising. Meanwhile, these deaths were knowingly hidden from the public eye. Still, the minor fines for big crimes do not end there.
The most recent fine was issued to GlaxoSmithKline, the second largest drug manufacturer in the United States. The crime? An Argentinian judge fined 400,000 pesos (around the equivalent of $93,000) by an Argentinian judge for killing 14 babies during illegal lab vaccine trials that were conducted between 2007 and 2008. It also came out that GSK recruited doctors who forced illiterate parents into signing over their children for the experiments. Are 14 lives really worth $94,000?
The real question is why are the heads of these deceptive marketing campaigns and illegal human experiments not in jail?