Friday, August 22, 2014

The Death Doctors

Corporations aren't people. That’s good news for Johnson & Johnson, because if corporations were people, then J&J would be locked away in a jail cell charged with murder.

One of America’s largest corporations is responsible for the deaths of many of our fellow Americans. Another one may be dying as you read this. This is a tale of corporate greed and money; of the most helpless members of our communities and families; and of the callous death dealers who masquerade as pillars of our society.

Whisper. Can you hear it? That’s the hushed sound of death. No, not whisper. Risperdal. Risperdal is manufactured by Johnson & Johnson, and  was one of the first medicines to be approved for treatment of schizophrenia in adults and teenagers 13 years of age and older. Later, it was approved for use for bipolar disorder, and for autism and behavior problems in children ages five-to-16. But there’s one group of people who should never use Risperdal: old people. Simply put, it kills them.

Risperdal (also called Risperidone) is NOT approved by the FDA for the treatment of behavior problems in older adults with dementia. They have an increased risk of death during treatment. They also have a greater chance of stroke or mini stroke. That’s why the FDA has put a black box warning on Risperdal stating it is not to be used on older adults with dementia. Risperdal can cause agitation, anxiety, confusion, disorientation, and death in these people.

When a drug is used for purposes other than what the FDA has approved its use for, such unapproved use is called “off-label” use. It’s not surprising that businesses are always seeking to find new ways for customers to use their products, and thus expand their market and therefore their sales. Old people with dementia can behave erratically and overburdened caretakers would certainly appreciate a magic pill to make them docile.

In November, 2013, Johnson & Johnson paid $2.2 billion to settle lawsuits for trying to push Risperdal for anxiety problems and for dementia in the elderly when the drug is not approved for such use and has been proven to be deadly when used off-label. The U.S. Justice Department called it “one of the largest health care fraud settlements in U.S. history.” The AARP Bulletin (August 2014) stated: “Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries were fined more than $2.2 billion to resolve criminal and civil charges because of their aggressive marketing of drugs, including antipsychotics, to nursing homes, when they knew the drugs had not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as safe and effective for a general elderly population. The corporation also allegedly paid kickbacks to physicians, as well as to Omnicare, the nation’s largest long-term care pharmacy provider. Omnicare pharmacists were recommending Johnson & Johnson’s drugs, including the antipsychotic Risperdal, for use by nursing home residents.”

A source told the AARP Bulletin, “There was a push by drug manufacturers, claiming these medications work for seniors when they knew, in fact, that it doubled their risk of death.”

More than 400 lawsuits were filed against Johnson & Johnson. The federal government in 45 states accused Johnson & Johnson of illegally marketing Risperdal for off-label purposes. But it isn't just the 60-to-70% of nursing home residents with dementia who are at risk. Doctors and pharmacists are being misled into believing it’s safe to prescribe Risperdal to the elderly. Many caregivers tending to the needs of their elderly parents or grandparents in their homes have relied on, and trusted, the word of their doctor or pharmacist and given their loved ones this magic pill, unaware of the deadly risk it carries.

I know all too well the horror of Risperdal. Two weeks after it was prescribed for my 103-year-old grandmother, I saw her become lethargic and not recognize members of her own family, as well as exhibiting some of the known side effects of the drug. When I learned the truth about Risperdal, we weaned her off it (the insidious pill cannot be stopped cold turkey) and she returned to normal. Her experience occurred after the $2.2 billion settlement: Risperdal is still being marketed for off-label use, despite the FDA black box warning that it will kill elderly patients. Most caregivers are unaware of its danger and trust their doctors and pharmacists, who in turn trust Johnson & Johnson. And every day, the corporation grows richer, the cemeteries fill more plots, and the prison cells remain empty because you can’t put a corporation in jail, even if it’s getting away with murder.

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