J&J relied on geriatrics to grow Risperdal

Some newly released court documents suggest that Johnson & Johnson was leaning heavily on the geriatric market to boost sales of its atypical antipsychotic Risperdal at a time when federal regulators were warning the company against claiming the drug was safe and effective in elderly patients, Bloomberg reports.

The documents, made public after Bloomberg asked a judge to unseal them, show that J&J was pushing to expand use of the drug beyond its schizophrenia indication. "Schizophrenia represents only 35 percent" of antipsychotic scrips, one executive at J&J subsidiary Janssen wrote in an internal report. "Aggressive expansion of Risperdal use in other indications is therefore mandatory."

Based on its review of the documents, Bloomberg reports that the company tried to sell Risperdal for a variety of off-label uses, including dementia, an indication for which the drug was never approved. Janssen expanded its geriatric sales force almost threefold during that time. And despite nominal prohibitions against talking about unapproved uses, at least some doctors paid to speak on Risperdal's behalf didn't adhere to that policy. "I always plant a shill because if I get asked a question from the audiencee, I can then speak off-label," one such doctor told the company.

As usual in these cases of big document dumps, there's a legitimate question of "cherry-picking" the best--or worst--examples from all those pages. A J&J spokesman tells Bloomberg that the Lousiana case that spawned these documents "should be decided on the body of evidence ... not on the basis of excerpts from documents."

- read the Bloomberg piece