Did Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) mislead doctors about the safety of its antipsychotic drug Risperdal? The company faces several state lawsuits alleging just that. South Carolina is now becoming the third state to go before a jury over J&J's Risperdal marketing campaigns. It alleges J&J tricked state officials into paying for Risperdal treatment for Medicaid patients by deliberately overstating its benefits.
The case hinges on a 2003 letter J&J sent to state regulators and 700,000 U.S. doctors, including 7,200 in South Carolina, Bloomberg reports. The FDA countered that missive with a warning letter stating J&J had made false and misleading claims that downplayed the risks and hyped the drug's superiority over similar rivals.
"This case is about corporate responsibility and not going out to lie to defenseless people in pursuit of the almighty dollar," the state's attorney, Donald Coggins, Jr., said in opening statements (as quoted by Bloomberg).
Risperdal brought in $527 million last year, but sales peaked at $4.5 billion in 2007. The company has said it's in the process of negotiating a Department of Justice settlement in a probe of its Risperdal marketing practices.
For its part, J&J says it disclosed Risperdal's risks, and the state can't prove doctors were misled by the letter. J&J lawyer Steven Pugh told jurors, "The state is not going to bring in a single South Carolina doctor to say they were deceived."