Blood glucose meters, artificial hips, contact lenses, anti-psychotic medications, Tylenol, infant Motrin, K-Y Jelly and vaginal mesh implants. These are just a few of the Johnson & Johnson products demanding the attention of the FDA and the public over the last several years. All recalled due to faulty production or other dangerous issues.
Johnson & Johnson cannot get its act together. The problem is that while problems continue to crop up, the business is worrying more about image than quality control. This spring the company launched a major rebranding campaign with the slogan, “For all you love, Johnson & Johnson”, to the tune of 30 million dollars. The accompanying image of a newborn is meant to remind us of the J&J of past years—the company of baby powder, skin lotion and no tears shampoo. Warm and fuzzy images that in no way mirror the reality of the conglomerate that is now Johnson & Johnson.
The most recent J&J issue, ironically, concerns its infant Motrin—found to contain poppy-seed sized bits of plastic. The contaminants were attributed to a 3rd party manufacturer of ibuprofen, the active ingredient in the liquid Motrin. Two-hundred thousand (200,000) bottles of the liquid Motrin for infants have been recalled. The week before, the recall was for Risperdal Consta, a long acting liquid form of the antipsychotic, Risperdal. The injectable medication was found to contain mold. (New York Times, 9/13/2013) “Johnson & Johnson has worked hard to repair its image and returned some of its best-known over-the-counter brands to the market. It named a new chief executive, Alex Gorsky, to replace William C. Weldon, who had been criticized for focusing too much attention on cost-cutting and too little on quality. Mr. Gorsky, a longtime company executive, has said he would place fixing the quality problems among his highest priorities.
Johnson & Johnson officials said over the summer that they plan to return three-quarters of the company’s over-the-counter brands to pharmacy shelves by the end of the year, and that they are meeting the F.D.A.’s requirements under the consent decree. (NYT, 9/13/2013)
The consent decree was an action taken by the FDA in March 2011 when the FDA prohibited McNeil-PPC, a subsidiary of J&J, from manufacturing and distributing drugs from its Fort Washington, Pa., facility. Two years later, issues continue to crop up and J&J has promised to repair or overhaul production at three of its plants.
Johnson & Johnson has grown too large: it would appear to be out of control. The image of a company that cares about people is nothing more than a 30 million dollar fantasy. There are too many subsidiaries and outsourcing of products to third party manufacturers for responsible oversight. Clearly administration cares about its bottom line, but does it care about its consumers? Ask the people with faulty hip implants (DePuy ASRs or Pinnacles) or the parents who fear they have dosed their infants with medicines containing bits of plastic. What about the people with liver damage as a result of too much acetaminophen from Extra Strength Tylenol? Or the women who suffered internal damage from a faulty vaginal mesh implant?
The J&J logo on our healthcare products no longer stands for love, or the implied notion of safety – it has been tainted. Johnson & Johnson hasn’t shown the public that it is truly committed to producing safe products. Perhaps it has been pleasing its shareholders over the past years, but that probably could have been better if the products were of a higher quality. It will take more than a change in top management and a catchy ad campaign to convince us otherwise.