Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Are Secret Drug Recalls Common?

When Johnson and Johnson's McNeil Pharmaceuticals discovered that Motrin tablets on drugstore shelves might be faulty, the company hired contractors to purchase all the affected Motrin they could find in stores.

In an exclusive interview with ABC News, Lynn Walther, who works for a Portland, Ore., inventory company, said that he was "hired by a contractor to walk into convenience stores and quietly buy specific lots of Motrin IB caplet eight-count vials. Though he said his purchases often were met with puzzled looks from store owners, Walther said he had been told not to give the stores an explanation" (see the video below and "Contractor Questions Order to Remove Motrin From Shelves").

Walther was following the instructions he'd been given. "You should simply act like a regular customer while making these purchases," the document said. "There must be no mention of this being a recall of the product. Run in, find the product, make your purchase and run out."

This "secret recall" program was authorized by Colleen A. Goggins, Worldwide Chairman, Consumer Group, Johnson & Johnson. Goggins testified before Congress that there was no effort at concealment. Since then, Goggins has fallen on the sword for J&J and tendered her resignation as of March 2011 (see here). I imagine that she is not likely to appear before Congress again for fear of facing perjury charges.

J&J defends itself by claiming it's actions were NOT secret at all -- it did the "recall" with the full knowledge of the FDA, a claim the FDA seems to deny. Listen to the ABC interview for the details.

One wonders how common it is for drug companies to engage in secret recalls like this?


  1. Good article, I think this is a clever method to getting a faulty product off the shelves without throwing America into panic (er...all of America that take Motrin still... I mean, that's like at least 100 people, right?) So long as the product didn't cause bodily harm, I'm supportive.

  2. BarryR1:35 PM

    Your headline is a bait and switch. This is old news. You have no new news. You have the same old evidence of this happening once. So why do you have a headline asking whether this is common? It hints that the article has evidence or rumors or something hinting that it is common. But you got nothing. Irresponsible.

  3. I think this ABC interview is NEWS ... like a smoking gun, don't you think?

  4. Anonymous7:41 AM

    They should have told the contractors it was a 'label problem'. That seems like enough truthiness - whatever was wrong wasn't on the label. Stores are used to having product pulled for label changes or repackaging, sometimes just because a brand logo has changed. It could be a typo, it could be any number of things, maybe the 800 number was wrong....let them wonder....They could have gone in as contractors and pulled it and no one would have batted an eye.

    Not that secret drug recalls are a good idea. There are just better ways to do them.

  5. Michelle10:21 AM

    This is ridiculous. Hiring people to surreptitiously buy all the Motrin they can find is NOT an effective way to recall a drug. The store could easily replace it with product they have in the back, or they could receive a Motrin shipment the very next day and restock. Both these products could very well be flawed, and if the store is not aware of this, it's passing along that danger to consumers. Shame on J&J, I thought they cared more about their customer than that.

  6. Michelle,

    Good point! Very irresponsible of J&J.


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