Tylenol maker pleads guilty over contaminated medications

McNeil Consumer Healthcare, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, plead guilty this week to charges of selling medications contaminated with metal particles. Throughout 2008-2012, hundreds…

A Johnson & Johnson subsidiary has plead guilty to selling contaminated products. (Shutterstock)

McNeil Consumer Healthcare, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, plead guilty this week to charges of selling medications contaminated with metal particles. Throughout 2008-2012, hundreds of millions of products such as Tylenol, Motrin, Rolaids, Benadryl were recalled due to faulty manufacturing traced back to a Fort Washington, Pennsylvania plant.

Public alarm rose sharply in 2009, when a customer complained to Johnson & Johnson about strange, dark particles floating the bottom of an Infants’ Tylenol bottle.

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At the time, the Food and Drug Administration announced a voluntary recall conducted by McNeil Consumer Healthcare of certain lots of oral suspension Children’s and Infants’ Tylenol products, but the reason cited was  “due to the potential of bacteria in raw materials used to manufacture the finished product.”

The company’s analysis eventually revealed not only was there bacterial contamination in some batches; the particles in the medication were metal pieces of nickel and chromium.

From that time onward into 2012, millions of products were recalled, including the entire U.S. supply of children’s Tylenol. The recalls were not only the result of metal contamination; consumers reported other issues with Johnson & Johnson drugs such as strange odors, faulty dosing syringes and incorrect wording on labels.

The repercussions of the failed quality control for certain Johnson & Johnson products finally came to a head this year, when McNeil Consumer Healthcare plead guilty in federal court for the sale of potentially harmful products. The company will be fined $25 million, according to Reuters, and remittance of that fine will resolve the case legally.

Tylenol is a popular headache medicine

Tylenol products have been recalled numerous times through 2009-2012. (Niloo/Shutterstock)

For some, the fine is far from appropriate punishment. In 2010, just prior to another McNeil product recall,  3-year-old Markus Cherry visited the doctor for a checkup and was given a clean bill of health.

The Chicago Tribune reported at the time the boy was also given a prescription for Tylenol to alleviate the crankiness and discomfort from his vaccinations. Three days later Markus was dead, and his parents eventually sued McNeil, the maker of the Tylenol product, for knowingly selling contaminated products.

The lawsuit, filed in 2012, claimed the manufacturer was aware of contamination problems at its Fort Washington, Pa., plant and initiated a “stealth recall”— hired a private company to simply buy the entire stocks of the tainted drugs from retailers — instead of issuing a formal recall notice and warning consumers that the drugs were tainted.

Markus wasn’t the only child’s death to be linked to  contaminated Tylenol consumption. Two-year-old River Moore allegedly died from taking Children’s Tylenol that had toxic levels of acetaminophen which eventually led to liver damage. Overall, five class action complaints were filed in a Tylenol lawsuit from disgruntled consumers.

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Though the company has admitted wrongdoing, the $25 million court fine cannot bring back the lives of those lost or heal the emotional wounds for people who have dealt with serious health issues as a result of poor products. Johnson & Johnson overall has suffered since the barrage of recalls, losing at least $900 million in revenue and seeing a stock drop of 19 percent.