In 1943, Robert Wood Johnson, the chairman and founding family member of Johnson & Johnson put forth the credo that he intended to forever guide the company’s decision making – Put the needs and well-being of the people we serve first.
But evidence continues to mount that Johnson & Johnson has abandoned the lofty ideals put forth in the corporate credo. As initial lawsuits involving the company’s troubled hip implant device, the Articular Surface Replacement (A.S.R.), continue in Los Angeles, it’s clear that profits — not patients — are now the driving force at Johnson & Johnson..
Evidence introduced against the company has included a memo from a doctor to executives at Johnson & Johnson informing them that the A.S.R. was so poorly designed that the company should slow its marketing efforts until it understood why patients were getting hurt. The memo was written almost two years before the company recalled the device in 2010. In those two years before the recall, knowing the device was poorly designed; evidence suggests the company actually increased their marketing efforts.
The plaintiff’s lawyers have also painted a picture of executives who systematically placed profits above the welfare of their patients. When a plan was developed to fix the flawed implant, it was scuttled by Johnson & Johnson because it was too expensive. The company’s DePuy orthopedic division continued to aggressively market the A.S.R. worldwide in spite of knowing of widespread failures with the joint.
In 2009 Andrew Ekdahl, then a senior marketing executive at DePuy elected not to reveal to any other countries where the A.S.R. was marketed that the United States had stopped sales of the replacement joint. Later that year when questioned by the New York Times regarding the concerns raised by the F.D.A., Ekdahl said that any reports of safety issues with the A.S.R. were, “simply untrue.”
Ekdahl made these statements long after the memos from doctors had been circulated internally within the company outlining problems with the A.S.R.
Outside the trial in Los Angeles other developments involving Johnson & Johnson’s DePuy division seem to indicate how far the company might be falling from Robert Wood Johnson’s credo.
Last week in Greece, five DePuy officials were charged with bribery and money laundering over deals between 1998 and 2006. The charges accuse the five of paying more than €16 million ($21.5 million) in bribes to Greek doctors to promote company products. There are no indications yet that the bribes involved marketing of the A.S.R, but it shows the lengths the company was willing to go to in its marketing efforts.
It is also prudent to note that the A.S.R. recall was only the first in what has become the biggest medical device failures in decades. Since then, the Smith & Nephew R3 and the Zimmer Durom Cup have also been recalled. The Stryker Rejuvenate was recalled in 2012 for metal contamination as well but in that case the metal was leaching from the modular neck joint. Metal-on-metal joints still on the market such as the Biomet Magnum, the Encore and the Wright Profemur Converse, Dynasty, and Lineage are also failing at unacceptably high rates.
Johnson & Johnson may continue to insist that it has acted responsibly with regards to the A.S.R., but the evidence being presented in Los Angeles shows the corporation has a lot left to explain.