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Risperdal for Kids Reaps Big Bucks—but for how long?

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Baltimore, MDJohnson & Johnson is accused of targeting Risperdal marketing towards children and teenagers, to the extent that the antipsychotic drug has been prescribed to treat anxiety in children. But some of those boys who developed gynecomastia, a non-cancerous increase in the size of male breast tissue, now suffer from depression and chances are, J&J has a drug for that too.

One Risperdal victim has recently gone public with his Risperdal account. Eddie Bible told CNN (December 14, 2016) that he developed male breasts at age 13, before J&J warned of gynecomastia as a side effect. "They put me on this Risperdal. The doctors said, 'Well, Risperdal was helping some.' To me, it didn't really help, because a year and a half later, I had gynecomastia,” Eddie Bible said. He stopped going outside with friends, was humiliated at school and suffers from low self-esteem and depression.

Bible took Rispderal in the early 2000’s, soon after J&J funded a study in 2001 that showed 3.8 percent of boys given Risperdal developed abnormal breasts that were “probably or very likely” caused by the drug. Attorney Thomas Kline told a Philadelphia jury in February 2015 that J&J did not disclose research showing that Risperdal caused gynecomastia so it could protect billions of dollars in sales of the drug.

J&J allegedly marketed Risperdal to children by equipping its sales force with promotional guides for Risperdal to pediatricians as early as 2003—which was “off-label”. At the time Risperdal was not indicated for use in children and was not FDA-approved for children. (Earlier this year, Consumer Reports said that a survey of 457 primary care physicians and psychiatrists found that many mistakenly thought common unapproved uses for certain drugs were FDA-approved. Further, almost 20 percent of doctors prescribed seroquel, an antipsychotic drug to seniors that was not approved and in fact increases the risk of death in those patients.)

But hiding evidence may backfire for the drug giant. Bible’s complaint is just one of more than 1,500 lawsuits filed over the past three years, several of which have resulted in huge settlements, including $70 million awarded to Andrew Yount. As well, US Recall News reports that over 2,000 cases have been filed in Philadelphia and 16,000 cases filed in California are being consolidated and will be brought before the Los Angeles courts in July 2017.

J&J has also settled $158 million, $124 million and $180 million for marketing claims in Texas, South Carolina and the District of Columbia respectively.

The drug, once J&J’s biggest seller, generated worldwide sales of $24.2 billion from 2003 to 2010, reaching $4.5 billion in 2007, according to the New York Times. J&J lost its patent protection when Risperdal became generic in 2008 and even uses that to its advantage, arguing that one Risperdal plaintiff also took the generic version so J&J cannot be responsible.

Some boys, teens and adults had surgery to reduce the size of their breasts, but others like Eddie Bible still have the breasts. Some insurance companies don’t cover surgery. Instead, they have to suffer embarrassment and bullying along with mental illness. But there are pills to deal with that. Risperdal also has been linked to excessive weight gain and diabetes. No doubt J&J is tracking Risperdal patients’ side effects and its sales representatives are instructed to push meds for those side effects too.

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