More than a year ago, I blogged about a major lawsuit against pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson. The issue is interesting to me as a Pennsylvania nursing home lawyer because J&J was accused of paying kickbacks to Omnicare, the nation’s largest provider of drugs to nursing homes, for using its products. Among those products is Risperdal, an antipsychotic that was widely used to control dementia patients’ behavior until scientists realized it actually hastens death in the elderly. Last week, a federal judge declined to dismiss the lawsuit, which is being pursued by the U.S. Justice Department because the fraud allegations affect Medicare. Also in late February, a former J&J employee filed a related whistleblower lawsuit alleging that the company also defrauded Medicaid by concealing discounts the government should have been entitled to receive.
The new lawsuit was filed by Scott Bartz, a former sales employee of the pharmaceutical company. Drug manufacturers are required to give Medicaid the same price as the lowest price given to private companies. Bartz alleges that J&J intentionally concealed discounts to others in order to inflate its prices to Medicaid for drugs including Risperdal and others given to nursing home patients. In this, he claims, J&J was aided by Omnicare and distributor McKesson. Meanwhile, the decision in the earlier whistleblower suit means J&J must defend itself in court against allegations that it paid Omnicare to increase the sales of antipsychotics in nursing homes. Omnicare has already paid $98 million to settle its portion of the Justice Department lawsuit.
As a Philadelphia injury lawyer, I’m pleased that so many of these allegations are getting their day in court. Science has shown that Risperdal and other atypical antipsychotics are dangerous for elderly people, yet those antipsychotics were prescribed heavily until the FDA took action. To make matters worse, all of those prescriptions were off-label, which means the drug was never approved to control dementia patients — it was only ever approved for use in psychotic patients. That means safety studies focused on safety in those patients, not in the elderly or demented. Using drugs off-label in this manner as “chemical restraints” can be considered a form of Pennsylvania nursing home abuse. If you believe your loved one suffered or died because of this practice, don’t hesitate to contact a Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyer to learn about your rights and legal options.
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