South Florida consumer advocate and leading false claims attorney Gary M. Farmer, Jr., a partner with Farmer, Jaffe, Weissing, Edwards, Fistos & Lehrman, PL, has successfully litigated his third major false claims case against a global pharmaceutical company. On November 4, 2013, the United States Department of Justice announced a settlement against pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary, Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc. Johnson & Johnson and Janssen will pay a total of $2.2 billion to state and federal entities, $1.27 billion of which consists of civil fines and restitution regarding the drug Risperdal®. As the lead whistle blower to bring the false claims to the government’s attention, Farmer’s client will share in a portion of the civil recovery.
Risperdal® was FDA approved for schizophrenia, specific bipolar disorders and behavior problems in teenagers and children with autism. The company was charged with:
The atypical antipsychotic medication Risperdal® can cause incurable diseases in children and adults, and can also cause strokes and heart conditions that kill elderly nursing home patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Some of the dangerous and sometime irreversible side effects included: Gynecomastia, abnormal breast growth or enlargement among male children and young adults; Tardive Dyskinesia, a disorder that involves involuntary and random movement in the tongue, lips or jaw as well as facial grimacing, movements of arms, legs, fingers and toes, or even swaying movements of the trunk or hips; neurological disorders; and weight gain, hyperglycemia and diabetes. Using falsified and misleading science and data, Janssen marketed Risperdal for these and other unapproved uses, specifically targeting pediatricians and nursing homes to prey upon vulnerable children and the elderly. Not only did Janssen know about but failed to disclose significant health risks associated with Risperdal, it affirmatively misrepresented Risperdal as being safe and without these known dangers and side-effects.
“This case clearly showed how Janssen Pharmaceutical was willing to put profits before people, and sales before safety,” said attorney Gary Farmer. “In the endless pursuit of profit Johnson & Johnson and Janssen aggressively marketed their drug Risperdal® with no regard as to what happened to patients who used it, including the most vulnerable patients – children and the elderly. Despite knowing of serious side-effects and risks associated with the drug, Janssen misrepresented it as safe to unsuspecting physicians. This reprehensible corporate greed must be stopped, and I am honored to have represented a brave citizen who came forward to stop this insidious practice. We will continue to seek justice for U.S. consumers, knowing full well the reality that only through actions like this will drug companies be discouraged from engaging in this wrongful conduct and unscrupulous corporate greed.”
Whistleblower and client Vicki Starr approached Farmer regarding the illegal marketing practices of Risperdal® and filed suit under the civil False Claims Act (31 U.S.C. Section 3729 et seq.). Also known as the Informer’s Act, this statute allows private individuals to sue companies that knowingly defraud the U.S. and/or state governments. It also protects whistleblowers from demotion, suspension, harassment and discrimination for cooperating with the investigation of their employer. Starr not only witnessed this from the pharmaceutical perspective, as a former employee, but was also the target of the pharmaceutical company’s marketing in her later employment as a medical director of a nursing home.
“Janssen Pharmaceuticals lied to patients, doctors, consumers, and the Federal Government in order to bolster sales and defraud taxpayers.” added Farmer. “Whistleblower suits allow us to expose these reprehensible companies and hold them accountable for their actions.”
Farmer was also spearheaded a drug case against pharmaceutical giant, Eli Lilly, which was resolved in a record setting $1.42 billion settlement in January 2009. In 2010, he successfully settled another false claims case against AstraZeneca for $520 million in fines and restitution. Farmer is nationally-recognized as a civil justice attorney and consumer advocate and is considered one of Florida’s leading consultants on qui tam law and litigation.