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Johnson & Johnson Pays $2.2 Billion for False Claims, Kickbacks, Off-Label Sales


Global health care giant Johnson & Johnson (J&J) and its subsidiaries agreed to pay more than $2.2 billion to resolve criminal and civil liability arising from allegations relating to the prescription drugs Risperdal, Invega and Natrecor, including promotion for uses not approved as safe and effective by the FDA and payment of kickbacks to physicians and to the nation’s largest long-term care pharmacy provider. The global resolution was one of the largest health care fraud settlements in U.S. history, including criminal fines and forfeiture totaling $485 million and civil settlements with the federal government and states totaling $1.72 billion arising out of multiple investigations of the company and its subsidiaries.

 

“The conduct at issue in this case jeopardized the health and safety of patients and damaged the public trust,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. “This multibillion-dollar resolution demonstrates the Justice Department’s firm commitment to preventing and combating all forms of health care fraud. And it proves our determination to hold accountable any corporation that breaks the law and enriches its bottom line at the expense of the American people.”

 

In a criminal information filed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the government charged that, from March 3, 2002, through December 31, 2003, Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc., a J&J subsidiary, introduced the antipsychotic drug Risperdal into interstate commerce for an unapproved use, rendering the product misbranded. For most of this time period, Risperdal was approved only to treat schizophrenia. The information alleges that Janssen’s sales representatives promoted Risperdal to physicians and other prescribers who treated elderly dementia patients by urging the prescribers to use Risperdal to treat symptoms such as anxiety, agitation, depression, hostility, and confusion. The information alleges that the company created written sales aids for use by Janssen’s ElderCare sales force that emphasized symptoms and minimized any mention of the FDA-approved use, treatment of schizophrenia. The company also provided incentives for off-label promotion and intended use by basing sales representatives’ bonuses on total sales of Risperdal in their sales areas, not just sales for FDA-approved uses.

 

In a plea agreement resolving these charges, Janssen admitted that it promoted Risperdal to health care providers for treatment of psychotic symptoms and associated behavioral disturbances exhibited by elderly, non-schizophrenic dementia patients. Under the terms of the plea agreement, Janssen will pay a total of $400 million, including a criminal fine of $334 million and forfeiture of $66 million. Janssen’s guilty plea will not be final until accepted by the U.S. District Court.

 

The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) protects the health and safety of the public by ensuring, among other things, that drugs intended for use in humans are safe and effective for their intended uses and that the labeling of such drugs bear true, complete and accurate information. Under the FDCA, a pharmaceutical company must specify the intended uses of a drug in its new drug application to the FDA. Before approval, the FDA must determine that the drug is safe and effective for those specified uses. Once the drug is approved, if the company intends a different use and then introduces the drug into interstate commerce for that new, unapproved use, the drug becomes misbranded. The unapproved use is also known as an “off-label” use because it is not included in the drug’s FDA-approved labeling.

 

In a related civil complaint filed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the United States alleged that Janssen marketed Risperdal to control the behaviors and conduct of the nation’s most vulnerable patients: elderly nursing home residents, children, and individuals with mental disabilities. The government alleged that J&J and Janssen caused false claims to be submitted to federal health care programs by promoting Risperdal for off-label uses that federal health care programs did not cover, making false and misleading statements about the safety and efficacy of Risperdal, and paying kickbacks to physicians to prescribe Risperdal.

 

In its complaint, the government alleged that the FDA repeatedly advised Janssen that marketing Risperdal as safe and effective for the elderly would be misleading. The FDA cautioned Janssen that behavioral disturbances in elderly dementia patients were not necessarily manifestations of psychotic disorders and might even be “appropriate responses to the deplorable conditions under which some demented patients are housed, thus raising an ethical question regarding the use of an antipsychotic medication for inappropriate behavioral control.”

 

The complaint further alleged that J&J and Janssen were aware that Risperdal posed serious health risks for the elderly, including an increased risk of strokes, but that the companies downplayed these risks. For example, when a J&J study of Risperdal showed a significant risk of strokes and other adverse events in elderly dementia patients, the complaint alleged that Janssen combined the study data with other studies to make it appear that there was a lower overall risk of adverse events. A year after J&J had received the results of a second study confirming the increased safety risk for elderly patients taking Risperdal, but had not published the data, one physician who worked on the study cautioned Janssen that “[a]t this point, so long after [the study] has been completed … we must be concerned that this gives the strong appearance that Janssen is purposely withholding the findings.”

 

The complaint also alleged that Janssen knew that patients taking Risperdal had an increased risk of developing diabetes, but nonetheless promoted Risperdal as “uncompromised by safety concerns (does not cause diabetes).” When Janssen received the initial results of studies indicating that Risperdal posed the same diabetes risk as other antipsychotics, the complaint alleged that the company retained outside consultants to re-analyze the study results and ultimately published articles stating that Risperdal was actually associated with a lower risk of developing diabetes.

 

The complaint alleged that, despite the FDA warnings and increased health risks, from 1999 through 2005, Janssen aggressively marketed Risperdal to control behavioral disturbances in dementia patients through an “ElderCare sales force” designed to target nursing homes and doctors who treated the elderly. In business plans, Janssen’s goal was to “[m]aximize and grow RISPERDAL’s market leadership in geriatrics and long term care.” The company touted Risperdal as having “proven efficacy” and “an excellent safety and tolerability profile” in geriatric patients.

 

In addition to promoting Risperdal for elderly dementia patients, from 1999 through 2005, Janssen allegedly promoted the antipsychotic drug for use in children and individuals with mental disabilities. The complaint alleges that J&J and Janssen knew that Risperdal posed certain health risks to children, including the risk of elevated levels of prolactin, a hormone that can stimulate breast development and milk production. Nonetheless, one of Janssen’s Key Base Business Goals was to grow and protect the drug’s market share with child and adolescent patients. Janssen instructed its sales representatives to call on child psychiatrists, as well as mental health facilities that primarily treated children, and to market Risperdal as safe and effective for symptoms of various childhood disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and autism. Until late 2006, Risperdal was not approved for use in children for any purpose, and the FDA repeatedly warned the company against promoting it for use in children.

 

The government’s complaint also contained allegations that Janssen paid speaker fees to doctors to influence them to write prescriptions for Risperdal. Sales representatives allegedly told these doctors that if they wanted to receive payments for speaking, they needed to increase their Risperdal prescriptions.

 

In addition to allegations relating to Risperdal, the recent settlement also resolved allegations relating to Invega, a newer antipsychotic drug also sold by Janssen. Although Invega was approved only for the treatment of schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder, the government alleged that, from 2006 through 2009, J&J and Janssen marketed the drug for off-label indications and made false and misleading statements about its safety and efficacy.

 

As part of the global resolution, J&J and Janssen have agreed to pay a total of $1.391 billion to resolve the false claims allegedly resulting from their off-label marketing and kickbacks for Risperdal and Invega. This total includes $1.273 billion to be paid as part of the resolution announced recently, as well as $118 million that J&J and Janssen paid to the state of Texas in March 2012 to resolve similar allegations relating to Risperdal. Because Medicaid is a joint federal-state program, J&J’s conduct caused losses to both the federal and state governments. The additional payment made by J&J as part of this settlement will be shared between the federal and state governments, with the federal government recovering $749 million, and the states recovering $524 million. The federal government and Texas each received $59 million from the Texas settlement.

 

The civil settlement also resolved allegations that, in furtherance of their efforts to target elderly dementia patients in nursing homes, J&J and Janssen paid kickbacks to Omnicare Inc., the nation’s largest pharmacy specializing in dispensing drugs to nursing home patients. In a complaint filed in the District of Massachusetts in January 2010, the United States alleged that J&J paid millions of dollars in kickbacks to Omnicare under the guise of market share rebate payments, data-purchase agreements, grants and educational funding. These kickbacks were intended to induce Omnicare and its hundreds of consultant pharmacists to engage in active intervention programs to promote the use of Risperdal and other J&J drugs in nursing homes. Omnicare’s consultant pharmacists regularly reviewed nursing home patients’ medical charts and made recommendations to physicians on what drugs should be prescribed for those patients. Although consultant pharmacists purported to provide independent recommendations based on their clinical judgment, J&J viewed the pharmacists as an extension of their sales force.

 

J&J and Janssen have agreed to pay $149 million to resolve the government’s contention that these kickbacks caused Omnicare to submit false claims to federal health care programs. The federal share of this settlement was $132 million, and the five participating states’ total share was $17 million. In 2009, Omnicare paid $98 million to resolve its civil liability for claims that it accepted kickbacks from J&J and Janssen, along with certain other conduct.

 

The civil settlement also resolved allegations that J&J and another of its subsidiaries, Scios Inc., caused false and fraudulent claims to be submitted to federal health care programs for the heart failure drug Natrecor. In August 2001, the FDA approved Natrecor to treat patients with acutely decompensated congestive heart failure who have shortness of breath at rest or with minimal activity. This approval was based on a study involving hospitalized patients experiencing severe heart failure who received infusions of Natrecor over an average 36-hour period.

 

In a civil complaint filed in 2009 in the Northern District of California, the government alleged that, shortly after Natrecor was approved, Scios launched an aggressive campaign to market the drug for scheduled, serial outpatient infusions for patients with less severe heart failure – a use not included in the FDA-approved label and not covered by federal health care programs. These infusions generally involved visits to an outpatient clinic or doctor’s office for four- to six-hour infusions one or two times per week for several weeks or months.

 

The government’s complaint alleged that Scios had no sound scientific evidence supporting the medical necessity of these outpatient infusions and misleadingly used a small pilot study to encourage the serial outpatient use of the drug. Among other things, Scios sponsored an extensive speaker program through which doctors were paid to tout the purported benefits of serial outpatient use of Natrecor. Scios also urged doctors and hospitals to set up outpatient clinics specifically to administer the serial outpatient infusions, in some cases providing funds to defray the costs of setting up the clinics, and supplied providers with extensive resources and support for billing Medicare for the outpatient infusions.

 

As part of the resolution, J&J and Scios have agreed to pay the federal government $184 million to resolve their civil liability for the alleged false claims to federal health care programs resulting from their off-label marketing of Natrecor. In October 2011, Scios pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor FDCA violation and paid a criminal fine of $85 million for introducing Natrecor into interstate commerce for an off-label use.

 

In addition to the criminal and civil resolutions, J&J has executed a five-year Corporate Integrity Agreement (CIA) with the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG). The CIA included provisions requiring J&J to implement major changes to the way its pharmaceutical affiliates do business. Among other things, the CIA required J&J to change its executive compensation program to permit the company to recoup annual bonuses and other long-term incentives from covered executives if they, or their subordinates, engage in significant misconduct. J&J may recoup monies from executives who are current employees and from those who have left the company. The CIA also required J&J’s pharmaceutical businesses to implement and maintain transparency regarding their research practices, publication policies, and payments to physicians. On an annual basis, management employees, including senior executives and certain members of J&J’s independent board of directors, must certify compliance with provisions of the CIA. J&J must submit detailed annual reports to HHS-OIG about its compliance program and its business operations.

 

The civil settlements described above resolved multiple lawsuits filed under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act, which allow private citizens to bring civil actions on behalf of the government and to share in any recovery. From the federal government’s share of the civil settlements, the whistleblowers in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania will receive $112 million, the whistleblowers in the District of Massachusetts will receive $27.7 million and the whistleblower in the Northern District of California will receive $28 million.

 

See the DOJ Announcement

 

 

See also Medical Law Perspectives, March 2012 Report: Off-Label Use of Prescriptions: When is this Medical Malpractice? Is the Pharmaceutical Company Liable for Overpromotion?

 

See also Medical Law Perspectives, May 2013 Report: Drugs, Dosage, and Damage: Physician Liability for Prescribing or Administering Medication

 

 

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