I wrote in this blog recently of the many suits filed in the past few years against Johnson & Johnson alleging that its famous baby powder products cause cancer in women. That fight remains ongoing. But J&J’s legal woes over its products aren’t in any way limited to over-the-counter consumer goods like talc or baby powder. Many of the lawsuits it has faced involve its prescription drugs.
One of those drugs is Levaquin, which was developed by J&J as a type of antibiotic. Levaquin belongs to the fluoroquinolone class of antibiotics, and was marketed by J&J to treat relatively minor infections, such as sinus infections and urinary tract infections (UTI’s.) Sounds admirable enough, except that plaintiffs’ suits in several states, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey, allege that the giant health and pharmaceutical company very aggressively marketed Levaquin, while knowing that the antibiotic could cause a dangerous medical condition called peripheral neuropathy – a very serious nerve disorder. Often times, this dangerous disorder can become permanent – resulting in loss of nerve sensation and partial paralysis. Many of these suits allege not only that Levaquin is a defective medical product, but that J&J knew about this while it was marketing the drug to doctors, and intentionally failed to warn doctors about the risks of neuropathy to their patients.
J&J is headquartered in New Jersey, and in excess of a dozen lawsuits have been filed in that state alleging similar claims. More than one suit claims that J&J possessed evidence of these risks as long ago as 1996,with even more scientific data showing up years later. But, these suits maintain, J&J continued to heavily market Levaquin as a first-line antibiotic treatment for relatively minor infections. In the wake of these suits, in 2013 the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) ordered J&J to issue prominent product warnings concerning the risk of suffering peripheral neuropathy if suing Levaquin, and the revised labeling removed the word “rare” from the warnings, as well as cautioned against using the drug for “uncomplicated” infections such as bronchitis and sinus infections. Similar warnings now apply to similar fluoroquinolone-class antibiotics including Bayer’s Cipro as well as Avelox. The warnings were updated to state that peripheral neuropathy could develop very quickly after taking Levaquin -and that symptoms might be irreversible.
Big of Johnson & Johnson to do that, wasn’t it?
As a Massachusetts defective medical products attorney, I hope these New Jersey cases against J&J will join into a multi-district litigation series of similar cases in Minnesota, where similar neuropathy allegations have been made against similar Bayer drugs.
The lawsuits surrounding peripheral neuropathy injuries followed a prior series of dangerous prescription drug lawsuits involving Levaquin causing to tendon injuries. J&J was hit with almost 3,400 lawsuits alleging Levaquin caused serious tendon problems and the pharmaceutical giant settled many of those cases. The common thread in most all of these suits is that J&J intentionally hid this medical evidence about Levaquin, minimizing dangerous side effects for its own financial gain. My reaction as a defective medical products lawyer? Well, let me quote a memorable TV character named Gomer Pyle, who readers of a certain age will recall was played by the very talented late actor Jim Nabors: “Surprise, surprise, surprise.”
It wouldn’t be fair and balanced of me if I didn’t include here, J&J’s official response to these suits, so here it is: “We … believe our actions regarding the medicine have been appropriate, responsible and in the best interests of patients.” “[W]e continually monitor the safety and efficacy of all our medicines and, in cooperation with the U.S. FDA and other health authorities, we update our product labels with new information so doctors and patients can make informed decisions.”
Uh-huh. In my view as a defective products attorney, corporate America and Big Pharma never cease to put profits ahead of safety. If anyone doubts that, you might want to think of the terms “Ford Pinto”; “Electric Blankets”, “Slip & Slide”, and something called cigarettes. If you think you or someone you know has been harmed by a dangerous prescription drug or a defective medical product, make sure that the law firm you speak with has years of proven successes in litigating these cases. It isn’t exactly easy taking on huge corporations like this. The firm you hire needs to have the stomach, the will, and the proven talent to win.