Johnson & Johnson stands accused of paying kickbacks to a pharmacy that specialises in dispensing drugs to patients in nursing homes in the USA.

The US Department of Justice has filed a False Claims Act complaint against J&J saying that the latter paid “millions of dollars” in kickbacks to Omnicare, the country’s largest pharmacy, to induce the latter to purchase and recommend J&J drugs, including the antipsychotic drug Risperdal (risperidone), for use in nursing homes between 1999 and 2004. According to the complaint, J&J understood that Omnicare’s pharmacists reviewed nursing home patients’ charts “at least monthly and made recommendations to physicians on what drugs should be prescribed”.

The US government further alleges that J&J knew that physicians accepted the Omnicare pharmacists’ recommendations “more than 80% of the time, and that J&J viewed such pharmacists as an "extension of [its] sales force’.” It is also claimed that deals were signed whereby Omnicare was entitled to increasing levels of rebates “so long as it implemented specific programmes to increase the prescriptions of J&J drugs”.

Furthermore, the complaint alleges that J&J paid Omnicare millions of dollars for "data," much of which Omnicare never provided and that healthcare giant “made various other substantial kickback payments to Omnicare, calling the payments "grants" and "educational funding," even though their true purpose was to induce Omnicare to recommend J&J drugs”.

Tony West, assistant attorney general for the civil division of the DoJ, said that “we will pursue those who break the law to take advantage of the elderly and the poor”. He added that “kickbacks such as those alleged here distort the judgments of healthcare professionals and put profits ahead of sound medical treatment”. In November last year, Omnicare agreed to pay $98 million as part of a settlement for taking kickbacks from J&J and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, but did not admit any wrongdoing.

J&J also does not believe it has acted wrongly. Spokesman Jeffrey Leebaw was quoted as saying that “we believe airing the facts will confirm that our conduct, including rebating programmes like those the government now challenges, was lawful and appropriate”.

Smelly OTC products pulled
J&J’s weekend did not get much better after its consumer healthcare division McNeil announced that it was recalling more than 53 million bottles of over-the-counter products in the Americas, the United Arab Emirates and Fiji. The products, which include the pain relievers Tylenol and Motrin, have been pulled following “an investigation of consumer reports” of an unusual moldy, musty, or mildew-like odour”.

In “a small number of cases”, J&J says the affected products were associated with “temporary and non-serious gastrointestinal events”, such as nausea, stomach pain, vomiting or diarrhoea.