TRENTON, N.J. - A South Carolina judge has upheld a $327 million civil penalty against health giant Johnson & Johnson, which in March was found guilty by a jury of overstating the safety and effectiveness of its former blockbuster antipsychotic drug, Risperdal.
Attorneys for the state said Wednesday that it's the biggest verdict in the country over the marketing of Risperdal. The pill for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder once brought J&J more than $3.4 billion in annual sales.
But it's been mired for years in litigation over alleged kickbacks, promotion for unapproved uses and other efforts to boost Risperdal over competing drugs. Dozens of pending state and federal cases allege illegal marketing practices for Risperdal, including one set for trial on Jan. 9 in which Texas is seeking more than $1 billion.
Texas has joined a whistle-blower's lawsuit over alleged kickbacks paid more than a decade ago to several doctors who were state officials in the state's mental health department to give Risperdal preference over other antipsychotic drugs. One is accused of accepting honoraria from J&J to fly around the country urging doctor colleagues in other states' Medicaid and mental health programs to use Risperdal over other drugs, said Thomas Melsheimer, who represents whistle-blower Allen Jones and is co-counsel with the Texas Attorney General in the case.
In the South Carolina case, Circuit Court Judge Roger Couch in Spartanburg on Tuesday denied Johnson & Johnson's motions asking him to order a new trial or overturn or amend the verdict.
"This paves the way for the company to file an appeal," Mark Wolfe, a spokesman for New Brunswick, N.J.-based J&J, wrote in an e-mail. "The company acted responsibly and believes it did not violate the South Carolina Unfair Trade Practices Act."