Thursday, December 9, 2010

Snake Oil, Anyone? - By Taran March - contributing editor for Quality Digest (9th Dec 2010)

Johnson & Johnson’s over-the-counter medications promise quality, deliver lawsuits.

All told, more than 200 million bottles of J&J products have been recalled this year


Late last month the FDA filed another Form 483 on the Puerto Rico plant, a 10-page indictment clearly showing that neither McNeil nor J&J had managed to address basic quality issues. Among the report’s findings were distribution of drugs that failed quality requirements, failure to identify product defects during routine testing, failure to detect incorrect expiration dates on drug labels, failure to adequately investigate product problems, failure to follow laboratory controls, and inadequate training of lab staff. 


Pretty sad, huh? This from a company founded in 1879 by Robert McNeil, who purchased a Philadelphia drugstore for $169 to use as a retail pharmacy. McNeil’s son helped establish McNeil Laboratories in 1933—the start of the Fort Washington facility that was closed this year—where early versions of acetaminophen were created. Johnson & Johnson bought the company in 1959. All the elements of can-do, feel-good American enterprise were scrupulously built in; all, in the space of a year, negligently stripped away. 


And what about Johnson & Johnson, presumably McNeil’s guiding hand? Unlike Toyota, which also suffered expensive recalls and loss of face this year, J&J seems to have distanced itself from the McNeil epicenter. Where Toyota made a point of broadcasting its response to its own series of recalls (see this  Quality Digest Daily article as an example), Johnson & Johnson has said nothing. At its news page, a single sentence in small type tersely directs consumers to McNeil’s recall page, www.mcneilproductrecall.com


By contrast, when Toyota had its massive recall, it did not create a web page called “CTSacceleratorpedalrecall.com” (CTS is the company that actually manufactured the accelerator pedal systems used in the recalled Toyotas). Toyota’s recall site? www.toyota.com/recall. That’s what owning up to your mistakes is about. It’s called corporate accountability. 


Johnson & Johnson is barely paying lip service to what quality assurance really means. Until it does better, its promises have about as much value as snake oil hawked at a medicine show.

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