Contractor Details “Secret” Motrin Recall

In a move described as a “phantom” recall, beleaguered pharmaceutical giant, Johnson & Johnson (J&J) may have averted a Motrin recall by arranging a nationwide stock buyback, said ABC News. J&J is looking at its second hearing with Congress. <"">Eight recalls in the past year alone—Children’s Tylenol, Motrin Infant Drops, Children’s Benadryl, and Zyrtec—prompted J&J to apologize for the biggest over-the-counter children’s drug recall, said ABC News.

In addition to an ongoing spate of recalls of a wide array of its products, in response to learning that some of its Motrin tablets were not appropriately dissolving, J&J worked to hide a problem with its popular medication, this time in 2008, said ABC News. When drugs don’t dissolve properly, they might not work properly. And, in cases of manufacturing issues, products are generally recalled, regardless of imminent or apparent harm is presented, wrote ABC News.

J&J and McNeil Consumer Healthcare, a J&J subsidiary, sent contractors nationwide to 5,000 convenience stores for the purpose of buying the defective drugs without the public’s knowledge, said ABC News.

According to Lynn Walther, who works for an inventory firm based in Portland, Oregon, “I did not understand why I should be telling someone that this is not a recall when in my mind it was a recall,” quoted ABC citing its exclusive interview with Walther, who also reported that a contractor hired him to visit stores discreetly to purchase specific Motrin IB lots in caplet, eight-count vials. Walther said the unusual purchases were met with questions, but he was advised not explain to customers, said ABC News. “Usually the only thing that was said was ‘That’s quite a bit of Motrin. What are you going to do with that?'” Walther said.

Walther said the script was part of the instructions that also said, “You should simply act like a regular customer while making these purchases…. There must be no mention of this being a recall of the product. Run in, find the product, make your purchase and run out,” according to the document Walther and others were given, said ABC News. “I wish to this day that I hadn’t done it…. But I did and I’m stuck with it,” he added quoted ABC News. Walther secretly faxed the instructions to the Oregon Board of Pharmacy, they later ended up with Congress, said ABC News.

The so-called program involved a massive buy back of the defective Tylenol products, resulting in the purchase of 88,000 packages, said ABC News. Meanwhile, at a May 2010 Congressional hearing, Colleen Goggins, J&J’s head of its consumer group, said J&J was not responsible for the buyback and was simply conducting an “audit” to determine where defective Motrin was being sold, said ABC News. “I don’t believe there was any intent to mislead or hide anything,” she said at the hearing, prior to resigning last week, wrote ABC News.

The chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Representative Edolphus Towns (Democrat-New York) issued a formal inquiry to William Weldon, McNeil CEO, to look at the 2009 program, said ABC News.

ABC News obtained emails that showed that some senior McNeil executives spearheaded the $400,000 Motrin purchase program stating, for example: “Do not communicate to store personnel any information about this product. Simply visit the store, locate the product and if any is found, purchase all of the product,” quoted ABC News. Another email shows Peter Luther, McNeil president writing, “Let’s make this happen asap.”

And, while the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) claimed no knowledge of the plans, McNeil claims it apprised the agency saying in a statement, “McNeil kept the FDA informed of its actions and removed the product from the market in a compliant manner,” quoted ABC News. Meanwhile, the agency told ABC news, “When the FDA learned that McNeil had hired contractors to secretly purchase product off the shelves, the agency advised McNeil to do a full recall, which the company agreed to initiate in July 2009.”

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