The state of Oregon is suing Johnson & Johnson for allegedly hiring people to buy Motrin pain reliever off the shelves so that the company would not have to issue a formal recall, nor tell consumers there was a problem.
Eight months after the formal recall was issued, Oregon Attorney General John Kroger said the "phantom recall" put the public in danger because it allowed the company to take the product off the market without telling consumers there was a problem. Public disclosure was delayed for more than a year, Kroger said."Companies that break the rules and put consumers at risk will be held accountable," said Kroger, in a statement released today.
(See the full complaint filed by Kroger here.)
The problem began in 2008, when McNeil-PPC and McNeil Healthcare, subsidiaries of J&J, found that some Motrin bottles, specifically those sold in 8 or 24-caplet containers, were defective. In 2009, the company apparently hired contractors to remove it from the shelves.
Apparently there was a problem with the Motrin dissolving properly, which meant they might not receive the full dose of medication. It could lead to "a worsening of pain, fever or inflammation," according to company documents submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
"You should simply 'act' like a regular customer while making these purchases. THERE MUST BE NO MENTION OF THIS BEING A RECALL OF THE PRODUCT!" said company documents in the Oregon release. "If asked, simply state that your employer is checking the distribution chain of this product and needs to have some of it purchased for the project."
Despite the attempts by the company to get rid of the Motrin, 787 bottles sold by Oregon retailers were unaccounted for, Kroger said. It wasn't until April 30, 2010 when more than 40 varieties of infant and child liquid medicines were recalled.
Oregon's lawsuit alleges multiple violations of its Unlawful Trade Practices Act, with a maximum penalty of $25,000 for each violation.
When the House Oversight and Reform Committee began investigating the official recall, it discovered that J&J's McNeil Consumer Healthcare president told employees in an email to recall specific lots of Motrin pills before issuing a formal public recall.
J&J has said that the Motrin incident only involved product sold at a few gas stations and that the FDA was aware that contractors had been hired to remove the bottles from shelves.
Both J&J and McNeil are under criminal investigation for consistent non-compliance with FDA regulations.
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