A jury in Louisiana has returned a $257.7 million verdict against Johnson & Johnson for making misleading claims about the safety of the company’s Risperdal antipsychotic drug. The jury found that J&J defrauded the state’s Medicaid system by wrongfully touting Risperdal as superior to competing antipsychotic drugs and minimizing its links to diabetes. The Louisiana verdict is the second trial loss in a state lawsuit brought over Risperdal marketing. A West Virginia judge in a non-jury trial last year awarded $3.95 million, finding the company misled doctors about the risks and benefits of Risperdal.
The jury found 35,542 violations of the state’s Medical Assistance Programs Integrity Law in the Louisiana case and imposed a penalty of $7,250 for each violation. The state’s case centered on drug safety claims that J&J and Ortho-McNeil Janssen made in November 2003 correspondence to 700,000 doctors. In those letters, J&J touted Risperdal as safer than competing antipsychotics such as Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly & Co.’s Zyprexa and London-based AstraZeneca Plc’s Seroquel. Risperdal global sales peaked at $4.5 billion in 2007, declining after the company lost patent protection. The FDA responded with a warning letter saying J&J made false and misleading claims that minimized the potentially fatal risks of diabetes and overstated the drug’s superiority to rival medicines.
Lawyers for the state asked jurors to hold J&J liable for the 7,604 letters it sent to Louisiana doctors and regulators making those claims along with more than 27,542 sales calls in the state made by the drug maker’s representatives in 2003 and 2004. The state sought a total of $351 million in damages, including penalties of $10,000 for each fraudulent claim and misrepresentation in violation of the Medical Assistance Programs Integrity Law. Patrick Morrow, a lawyer with Morrow, Morrow, Ryan & Bassell, located in Opelousas, Louisiana, represented the state and did a very good job.
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