J&J Execs Briefed on ‘Phantom Recall’ of Motrin

June 14, 2010

Johnson & Johnson executives were briefed on an outside contractor’s plan to buy up defective painkillers instead of issuing a recall, documents obtained by The Associated Press on Friday indicate.

E-mails sent to J&J last spring by contractor Inmar show the company was informed that the plan to purchase thousands of packets of Motrin could “draw scrutiny,” in the words one Inmar executive.

Congressional investigators have been probing J&J’s handling of problems with its Motrin tablets that emerged last year. The maker of consumer products and medicines has attracted scrutiny after a slew of product recalls, most recently involving dozens of children’s medicines.

The communication between J&J and Inmar, a supply-chain management company, appears to contradict testimony from J&J executive Colleen Goggins, who told lawmakers last month that J&J was not aware of the plan to use contractors posing as customers to buy the defective product.

But a memo signed by J&J’s McNeil Consumer Healthcare unit instructs Inmar employees to “not communicate to store personnel any information about this product. Simply visit each store, locate the product and, if any is found, purchase all of the product.”

Rep. Edolphus Towns, a New York Democrat who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, called the documents “troubling,” in a statement Friday.

J&J said in a statement Friday that it has turned over more than 22,000 pages of documentation to congressional investigators, which support Goggins’ testimony.

The company defended its handling of the defective Motrin, which was eventually recalled in July 2009 at the request of the FDA.

“Given that there was no safety risk the objective was to remove the affected product … with as little disruption or consumer confusion as possible,” the company said in a statement.

The problem with the Motrin pills caused them to dissolve improperly, delivering a less-potent dose.

FDA officials are considering criminal charges against the company after it was slow to fix manufacturing problems linked to three medicine recalls in the last eight months.

The most recent recall involved more than 40 varieties of children’s medicine, including Tylenol, Benadryl, Motrin and other products that make up nearly 70 percent of the market for pediatric medications.

J&J, which is based in New Brunswick, N.J., has long enjoyed a sterling reputation for safety, earned in the 1980s for quickly pulling bottles of Tylenol that may have been tainted with cyanide.

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