Another pharmaceutical company lawsuit. Should no-one else be held accountable?

Johnson & Johnson is well and truly on the hook again. It would appear that this company has no compunction in profiting at the expense of the health and well-being of their consumers. A list of recent and pending lawsuits totalling $billions does not appear to be making much of a dent in revenues so their profits must be huge.

The latest case is that of a young man who has been awarded damages because J & J failed to warn of the possible ‘breast development’ side effect? Reading the news item my initial reactions were along the line of: $1+bn for developing boobs / didn’t he notice anything / that’s a nice earner for his lawyers.

But how has the media covered the story? What have we been told – and not told?

The 26-year-old man was prescribed the antipsychotic Risperdal in 2003.
He would have been 10 years old. That is too young to be reading – and understanding – the highly detailed information leaflet that should have accompanied the drug.

The 10-year-old was prescribed the antipsychotic for autism spectrum disorder.
Although more commonly prescribed for psychosis associated with schizophrenia and bipolar Risperdal is used to treat the aggression and irritability of ASD. At 10 would he understand his behaviours as being in need of diagnosis and treatment?

Risperdal was prescribed by his psychologist.
I don’t know to what extent his parent or guardian was involved but why and how could a psychologist make such an extreme medication choice for a 10-year-old? More importantly psychologists use psychotherapy to treat patients with emotional and behavioural issues while it is psychiatrists who are trained medical doctors who can prescribe medications and work with patients on medication management in order to treat them.

To treat the psychosis associated with clinical depression and bipolar 1 I have been prescribed Risperdal, Olanzapine, and Depixol injections and always by my Consultant Psychiatrist. Over the years different drugs were tried because, as an adult, I could talk about side-effects that were distressing me. A young boy heading towards puberty should not be expected to understand whether changes in his body are usual. Because of this it is accepted as the responsibility of the treating doctor to monitor for serious side-effects.

This is a drug that can cause heart problems, weight gain, tardive dyskinesia (involuntary jerky movements) as well as enlarged breast tissue is children, alongside many less severe side-effects. In 2008 a London psychiatrist went so far as to state that her research had evidenced that antipsychotics do not work long-term and could cause brain damage.

Final thoughts:

I agree with the ruling that pharmaceutical companies must be held to account when innocent individuals are so affected by the drugs they supply. Information leaflets need to be much clearer in terms of language, layout, and font size.

Did it ever come into the equation that perhaps the prescribing psychologist did not research the drug fully nor monitor his patient sufficently?

Is there a clear enough distinction between the role and responsibility of psychologist and psychiatrist and is it appropriate that psychologists can be given carte blanche in matters of prescribing?

Are the guidelines on matters of monitoring patients on certain medications stringent enough to protect them from the unnecessary tragedies that do happen?

Lots of questions. Too few answers. I have been let down by the medical profession and have known friends with similar stories.
But over fifty years I have also been supported by fantastic people in hospital and in the community. Without doubt there are more medical staff who are diligent, professional, and caring than not.
Without them I would not be here now.
It is the professional bodies and the beaurocrats who need to step up to the plate and create a more supportive working environment for all. Good people doing their best deserve as much.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you have experience of good or indifferent treatment – as a patient or as someone on the front line of the profession? Please join the conversation.