Dark cloud looms over J&J as CEO goes before congress

posted on:
September 29, 2010

author:
JENNIFER WALKER-JOURNEY

Recalls of nearly 200 million well-known over-the-counter medicines produced by Johnson & Johnson (J&J) have tarnished the company’s image, cut into product sales, and cast a shadow over longtime J&J Chief Executive Officer Bill Weldon, who will appear before a congressional committee for the first time this week. Weldon reportedly has been recovering from back surgery and has yet to address the committee about the massive recalls on J&J medicines, such as Tylenol and Motrin for both adults and children due to contamination and substandard quality.

The first series of recalls included varieties of Tylenol, Motrin and Benadryl for adults that consumers reported had an unusual moldy, musty, or mildew-like odor that was sometimes associated with temporary and non-serious gastrointestinal events. An investigation linked the odor to a fungicide that was used to treat wooden pallets that the drugs had been shipped in.

Just a few months later, J&J issued a separate recall on Tylenol, Motrin, Zyrtec and Benadryl for infants and children because of the possibility that some products may contain a higher concentration of the active ingredients, the inactive ingredients may be below quality standards, or the medicines may contain tiny particles. J&J’s McNeil manufacturing plant was quickly shut down after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspected the building.

The plant isn’t expected to reopen until mid-2011. The FDA is considering civil and criminal action against J&J because of the substandard practices.

While no injuries have been reported with either recall, J&J’s public image has clearly suffered. Out of 500 brands polled this year as part of a consumer and brand loyalty survey, Tylenol allergy products dropped nearly 200 places in rankings, from 289 to 488, while Tylenol pain products fell 76 places, from 243 to 319, according to Brand Keys Inc., and reported by ABC News

Unfortunately, J&J’s woes are not limited to medicines. It’s subsidiary, DePuy Orthopaedics, announced in late August that it is recalling parts used for hip replacements because of the high rate of repeat surgeries needed by people who have received the parts.

This latest recall is expected to affect some 93,000 people.

With a darkening cloud hanging over J&J, is it possible for the once-popular drug company to gain back its once-trusted public image? Analysts say the first step would be for CEO Weldon to take responsibility and admit publicly that the company made mistakes. The next steps would be proving to consumers that the company is committed to righting its numerous wrongs. 

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