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Update on the litigation surrounding Johnson & Johnson

Johnson & Johnson has been a household name for nearly 75 years, and for much of that time it enjoyed a good reputation.

In the 1980s, J&J was applauded for its handling of the Tylenol crisis, when someone tampered with a small number of bottles of the pain killer and seven people were killed by cyanide poisoning. J&J didn’t hesitate then to recall the product and even redesigned the packaging to be tamper-resistant.

Now, a long series of missteps and scandals has been revealed, and the pharmaceutical giant’s reputation and stock have been dropping as a result.

A brief overview of the current claims against J&J

In March, J&J and Bayer agreed to pay approximately $775 million to resolve about 25,000 lawsuits involving their jointly-developed blood thinner Xarelto. The plaintiffs said that the companies failed to warn patients that the drug increased the potential for internal bleeding.

Over 14,000 lawsuits have been filed against J&J regarding its talc-based hygiene products. Plaintiffs claim that the products are tainted with asbestos and that using them has caused mesothelioma or ovarian cancer. They also claim J&J knew for decades its talc products contained asbestos but failed to warn consumers or the FDA.

Results in the talc cases have been mixed, but last year one jury ordered the company to pay $4.69 billion to 22 plaintiffs. J&J insists its talc products contain no asbestos, but just last week it recalled a lot of Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder after the FDA found trace levels of asbestos in a bottle bought online.

Earlier this month, a jury ordered J&J to pay one plaintiff $8 billion in punitive damages after finding it had failed to warn that its drug Risperdal could cause him and others to grow breasts.

Last week, the company agreed to settle multiple states’ claims regarding pelvic mesh implants used to treat organ prolapse. It will pay $117 million to settle claims it deceptively marketed the implants, which failed often, sometimes requiring additional surgeries.

In August, an Oklahoma judge ruled that Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary had created a public nuisance by flooding the market with its fentanyl patch Duragesic. He ordered the companies to pay $572 million to the state, which will be used to fight the opioid epidemic.

“Johnson & Johnson were not upfront about the risks,” said a mother whose son died of an opioid overdose. “They said possibly 1% of people taking opioids would become addicted when they knew the number was far greater.”

Finally, it has agreed to settle two opioid-related lawsuits for $20 million. That settlement allowed it to avoid the first of many federal lawsuits probing whether drug makers including J&J should be held liable for their role in the worst drug crisis in American history. J&J is still facing thousands of other opiod-related lawsuits. Dozens of states and over 2,500 municipalities, counties and tribes have sued.

So, the next time you watch one of J&J’s new tv commercials touting itself as a baby company that takes care of you your whole life, you might better understand why it is spending money to try and spin the public relations narrative back in its favor.

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