This case is filed under “Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect” on this blog for a good reason: That’s exactly what it is – except that the abuse wasn’t committed by a lone employee of a single nursing home, who ended up abusing patients. It was committed by a conspiracy among a multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical firm, dozens of separate nursing homes, and doctors and nurses also. If true (and to date, I see little evidentiary reason not to believe the allegations) it is a sickening story of corporate and individual greed, compounded by some of the worst examples of human cruelty to the most frail and forgotten members of society – nursing home residents.
By all credible accounts, the story seems to have unfolded as follows: Pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson apparently paid tens of millions of dollars to a firm called OmniCare, which although most people have never heard of, happens to be the nation’s largest provider of pharmaceutical drugs to nursing homes. The illicit payments were designed specifically to entice and assure that the company (OmniCare) aggressively and intensively pushed several of its drugs, particularly the powerful antipsychotic drug Risperdal, to nursing home doctors, using aggressive rebate programs and other financial incentives. The scheme is alleged to have lasted from 1999 to 2004. What’s the problem with that, one might ask – don’t some nursing homes need antipsychotic medications? Yes, but the twisted cruelty and malignancy here, is that Johnson & Johnson and OmniCare aggressively waged a campaign with nursing homes and their doctors to prescribe antipsychotics such as Risperdal, to patients suffering from dementia – not psychosis. J&J marketed their antipsychotics as a legitimate, valid medication to “sedate and control” patients suffering from dementia, when it was originally designed and approved to treat severe mental illness.
That twisted marketing campaign resulted in J&J nearly tripling sales of its antipsychotic drugs to OmniCare, from approximately $100 million just before the scheme began, to in excess of $280 million when the operation was discovered by government investigators in 2004. Imagine – – $100 million in sales (of these drugs alone) was not enough for J&J: They concocted this twisted scheme to fatten their profits even more, all the while risking the health and lives of tens of thousands of helpless nursing home patients. It is well- known in the medical profession that prescribing antipsychotics to patients suffering from dementia more than doubles their risk of death due to these medications. But that didn’t phase J&J, nor OmniCare, in their insatiable quest for more profits.
Before anyone thinks that dementia and psychosis are similar, let me assure readers of this blog, as someone who is very familiar with nursing home practices and medical issues related to dementia, that dementia and psychosis are completely, totally different illnesses, and to deliberately try to lump them together and push these mind-altering drugs into a population that is least capable of defending themselves, and doubling their risk of death, is beyond sick. It is among the most disgusting stories of corporate greed I have encountered in my legal career. Yet, it is nothing new for corporate America: The crazed drive for greed and financial gain at any cost to human life and human dignity, controls so much of corporate America. It has, for so long. If anyone doubts this, think of these names: Ford Pinto, The Dalkon Shield, Philip Morris, W.R. Grace, Lehman Brothers, AIG, Goldman Sachs, the banking industry, the insurance industry, Toyota, on and on. It never seems to end. I’ll provide more details on this elaborate corporate scheme, in my next post.