J&J’s DePuy ASR Debacle Breaks Away from Strides Made in its Handling of 1982 Tylenol Disaster


In the past, health care giant, Johnson & Johnson, was known as a pioneer in how it handled product disasters honestly and swiftly. Consider the 1982 Tylenol debacle in which cyanide-tainted drugs killed seven people.

Now, says USA Today, Johnson & Johnson appears to be taking a vastly different approach. In 1982, the drug maker pulled millions of Tylenol bottles from store shelves and introduced tamper-resistant packaging. But, it was the speed with which it acted and its transparency and honesty during the tragedy that became the standard for future corporate fiascos, noted USA Today.

In the midst of its orthopedic device unit’s—DePuy Orthopaedics—ongoing mess with metal-on-metal hips involving mounting injury reports, litigation, and investigative actions, Johnson & Johnson is maintaining its innocence, said USA Today. The device maker is facing nearly 11,000 lawsuits over its DePuy ASR device, alone.

The defendant in the first case was just awarded $8.3 million in compensatory damages over the DePuy ASR. The jury found that the ASR was defectively designed. The second case involves allegations that the DePuy ASR failed three years after implantation, leading to revision surgery, a typically painful and costly process that involves removing and replacing the ASR. DePuy ASR’s faulty design caused its failure and the need for additional surgery, the second plaintiff also alleged.

In recent years, increasing evidence has pointed to the high device failure rates in two DePuy hip implants. The devices remained on the market for years, finally being recalled in late 2010. By that time, 93,000 patients, worldwide, had been implanted with the faulty devices. Of those, more than one-third are in the United States, noted USA Today.

The all-metal hip implants were created for greater durability and longevity and with the intention that the seemingly stronger components would be far superior over their more traditional counterparts, which are constructed with plastic or ceramic elements. In recent years, the metal devices have come under fire for failing at unexpectedly high rates and leaving patients with significant and, often, life-long injuries. In fact, some experts say that European and American regulators worked to ensure patients were unaware of the devices’ risks and many have criticized device makers for placing profits before patient safety.

The all-metal hips are known to shed metallic debris, a problem that can lead to tissue and bone inflammation and damage, said USA Today. Also, Johnson & Johnson’s statistics state that the ASR implants will fail in some 37 percent of patients in under five years. This means, noted USA Today, that those patients must undergo a painful, complex, and costly surgery to remove and replace a device touted to last 15 years.

Johnson & Johnson’s move from more responsible practices is, in fact, a violation of its policies that state that the company’s “first responsibility” is “to the doctors, nurses and patients … who use our products and services,” said USA Today. Had Johnson & Johnson used its handling of the 1982 Tylenol debacle when dealing with the ongoing DePuy ASR fiasco, noted USA Today, it would have saved thousands of patients pain and would have likely saved itself from costly lawsuit awards.

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