Our Pennsylvania nursing home negligence lawyers were disturbed to see a recent report suggesting some nursing homes have intentionally over-medicated their patients. The New York Times reported Jan. 15 that federal regulators have sued Johnson & Johnson for paying illegal kickbacks to a nursing home pharmaceutical distributor named Omnicare. The complaint in Boston federal court said Johnson & Johnson paid Omnicare to buy its products. Those products included prescription drugs like the powerful antipsychotic Risperdal, which is frequently used off-label to control behavior in patients with dementia. The Justice Department accused Johnson & Johnson of committing Medicaid fraud by inflating the number of prescriptions it paid.
Omnicare is a "middleman" that manages insurance issues, processes payments and distributes medications. The government alleges that it took illegal payments from Johnson & Johnson from 1999 to 2004. Among other things, the lawsuit says the drug maker paid for information previously distributed for free, and paid rebates every quarter based on Omnicare's success at switching patients to its drugs from competitors' drugs. These rebates are legal, but only if Medicaid gets the same discount as other large purchasers. The lawsuit says Johnson & Johnson tried to disguise its rebates to Omnicare in quarterly reports to the government.
As Philadelphia nursing home abuse attorneys, we wonder how many other companies may be guilty of similar behavior. Kickbacks are particularly dangerous in nursing homes because they encourage nursing homes to over-prescribe medicines. Some of these medicines may be appropriate, but they can also carry serious side effects. In fact, we wrote here last week about problems with the atypical antipsychotic Risperdal, which carries an FDA warning that it may increase the risk of death in elderly patients with dementia.