J&J painkiller probe expands scrutiny of industry marketing

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Johnson & Johnson's list of government marketing investigations just got longer. The company announced in its quarterly report that Atlanta's Health and Human Services office has subpoenaed marketing and sales information for J&J opioid painkiller Nucynta IR and Nucynta ER that was issued by the healthcare giant's Janssen subsidiary. J&J says the government's interest includes “remuneration of healthcare providers” as well as safety issues or complaints the company received about the medication.

J&J noted in the quarterly report that the drug maker “has received numerous requests from a variety of United States Congressional Committees to produce information relevant to ongoing congressional inquiries,” and is sharing information. Wells Fargo estimates Nucynta had $197 million in sales last year, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The storyline, however, has two other threads. For J&J, this is yet another knock on its reputation, which includes a series of investigations regarding how it marketed its anti-psychotic Risperdal; personal injury claims against its Ethicon unit over its pelvic mesh devices; an investigation into now-subsidiary Synthes' fellowship program that is looking into allegations that it traded fellowships for purchases; a slew of OTC drug recalls in its McNeil consumer division; and a recent OPDP letter that says Janssen's WebMD ad minimized Xarelto risks.

This is in addition to scrutiny of the prescription opioid drug market over abuse trends, which have drawn attention over the rates of abuse as well as concerns about overprescribing. Supporting these concerns are a July Centers for Disease Control report that found prescription painkiller abuse was rising among men and women, but among women at a faster pace, and a June report from the HHS' Office of Inspector General that showed high prescription rates among controlled drugs that appear on the DEA's restrictive Schedule II and Schedule III categories among Medicare Part D members.

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