Johnson & Johnson has been hit with an $8 billion dollar verdict after a local man claimed that he was unaware of the risks of taking the antipsychotic drug Risperdal.
The plaintiff, Nicholas Murray, was prescribed Risperdal when he was a minor. According to his lawsuit, he was not adequately informed of the side effects of the drug, which include gynecomastia, or the development of breasts in males. Gynecomastia is typically a permanent biological change, resulting in the development of actual breast tissue, different from simple fat deposits. Even if the drug use is discontinued, the breast tissue must often be removed surgically, as it will not otherwise go away.
In order to achieve its antipsychotic effects, Risperdal blocks the activity of dopamine in certain areas of the brain. This change also has an effect on the pituitary gland. The blocking activity can stimulate the pituitary gland, resulting in the release of various hormones, including prolactin. Prolactin is a hormone responsible for stimulated breast tissue development and causing lactation in pregnant and nursing women.
This has not been the first controversy surrounding Risperdal. In 2013, the Department of Justice accused Johnson & Johnson of promoting the drug for dementia patients, even though it was approved only to treat schizophrenia, and dementia use had not been approved as safe and effective by the Food and Drug Administration.
According to his claim, Murray developed breasts after his doctors began prescribing him Risperdal off-label in 2003 after he had been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. He has been litigating his claim for some time. In 2015, a jury awarded him $1.75 million after finding Johnson&Johnson was negligent in failing to warn of the risk of gynecomastia. A state appeals court upheld the verdict in February 2018 but reduced it to $680,000.
The most recent verdict of $8 billion represents punitive damages imposed on Johnson & Johnson. Punitive damages differ from other types of common damages in personal injury cases in that they are not intended to compensate the victim, but rather to discourage wrongdoing. They are quite rare in medical malpractice cases. Previously, the court had ruled that no punitive damages would be available in this case. The decision was based on the fact that New Jersey, the state where Johnson & Johnson's headquarters are located, prohibits punitive damages. However, the Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled punitive damages were permitted, noting the state where each plaintiff lives should be the determining factor, allowing the laws of Pennsylvania to be applicable to Murray's case.
Murray's case is one of many against the pharmaceutical company. Several other men who experienced gynecomastia after taking Risperdal have claims pending against the drugmakers.