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Internal Emails Show Johnson & Johnson Personnel Knew of Motrin Repurchase Effort

Jun 14, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP

Some new details are emerging about the way Johnson & Johnson decided to deal with some defective Motrin tablets in 2008. As we’ve reported previously, there is speculation that Johnson & Johnson tried to avoid recalling Motrin by hiring outside contractors to buy the product in stores.

During a hearing into recent recalls of children’s Tylenol and other medicines by Johnson & Johnson’s McNeil Consumer Healthcare unit conducted by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last month, it was learned that McNeil hired contractors to buy Motrin IB caplets under orders not to mention the term “recall” after learning in November 2008 that the drugs were not dissolving properly. A memo titled “Motrin Purchase Project” instructed the contractors to “on your schedule to locate and purchase” all of the Motrin eight-count packages. The document further instructed them to “‘act’ like a regular customer in making these purchases.” Neither the public nor the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) was informed of the action.

McNeil finally recalled 88,000 packages of the drug in July 2009 after the FDA learned of the purchase effort. Since learning of the incident, Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Edolphus Towns (D-NY), has referred to the Motrin purchase effort as a “phantom recall.”

Now, The Wall Street Journal is reporting that internal Johnson & Johnson emails show that some employees knew of the buyback effort. The emails were exchanged last spring between Johnson & Johnson personnel and Inmar Inc. a Winston-Salem, N.C. firm that specializes in product retrievals.

In one email, dated April 1, 2009, an Inmar official tells four Johnson & Johnson employees that contractors would tell stores their purchases “random quality and/or packaging checks”or are “purchasing some samples.” The memo to contract workers was sent from an entity called “WIS” that was working for a client called “CSCS” on behalf of Johnson & Johnson, the Journal said. The report noted that Inmar has a division called CSCS.

Johnson & Johnson has been under scrutiny since April, when McNeil Consumer Healthcare recalled more than 40 varieties of Tylenol Infant Drops, Children’s Tylenol Suspensions, Children’s Tylenol Plus Suspensions, Motrin Infant Drops, Children’s Motrin Suspensions, Children’s Zyrtec Liquid in Bottles, and Children’s Benadryl Allergy Liquid.

McNeil has temporarily shut down production at the Fort Washington, PA facility that made the drugs. In April, the FDA cited more than 20 manufacturing problems, including not properly testing for contamination of the recalled products. The problems prompted the FDA to widen its investigation of McNeil’s manufacturing practices, and it is now inspecting the company’s other facilities in Lancaster, PA and Puerto Rico. Officials from the agency have also said they were considering possible criminal charges against Johnson & Johnson and McNeil.

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