|May 5, 2010|
|NY Times Errs on 'Fast' Tylenol Recall in 1982|
|By Jack O'Dwyer|
|The New York Times, reporting yesterday on the recall of children's Tylenols and other Johnson & Johnson children's drugs, again fell hook, line and sinker for the false description of J&J’s handling of the seven Tylenol murders in 1982.|
NYT staffer Natasha Singer wrote in a “news analysis”:
“J&J is considered a model for the consumer products industry for its fast and adept handling of a Tylenol scare in 1982 in which seven people in Chicago died after taking capsules that had been laced with cyanide.”
The easily corrupted capsules should never have been marketed at all. Their recall was made after five days and after two small lots of Tylenol capsules were recalled in an effort to localize the problem.
The false Tylenol story is biting into the credibility of J&J, media and PR trade groups much like the Langoliers devoured reality in the 1995 movie based on a novel by Stephen King. They were toothy spherical creatures with bottomless throats that attacked everything.
Many pharmacists refused to carry capsules by any manufacturer since they could be easily opened and other ingredients inserted. For J&J to have rushed them back onto the market six weeks after the Chicago murders showed that it valued profits over human life and that its “credo” saying customer welfare is paramount is nothing but words.
Spiked Tylenol capsules in a “tamper-resistant” bottle killed 23-year-old Diane Elsroth in 1986. FBI tests, which took two weeks, found that the bottles had been opened and re-sealed.
Singer’s description of J&J’s reaction to the murders in 1982 as “fast” is false. It took the company five days to call for a nationwide withdrawal.
That was after 27-year-old Greg Blagg of Oroville, Calif., almost lost his life due to a Tylenol capsule containing strychnine. The Food & Drug Administration had stepped into the picture, urging withdrawal of Tylenol products.
The FDA should have banned anything in capsules that could be pulled apart.
The NYT has continued its policy of swallowing whole the myths surrounding J&J and the 1982 murders although it should know better by now.
NYT Snookered in 2002
NYT contributing editor Judith Rehak wrote in 2002, on the 20th anniversary of the murders, that J&J “placed consumers first by recalling 31 million bottles of Tylenols from store shelves and offering replacement product in the safer tablet form free of charge.”
By the time J&J called in its dangerous product (five days later), there was nothing on any store shelf with the name “Tylenol” on it.
J&J had no choice but to take its product back.
The $100 million cost it gave for the recall was the retail value of the product. Actual cost to J&J was a fraction of that.
The company’s net for 1982, when it took a $50 million, 27-cents per share charge for the recall, was $2.52 per share, or one cent more than the $2.51 per share it reported for 1981. Total sales for 1982 were up 6.7% to $5.76B.
New Controversies Hit J&J
Singer was writing about the recall of liquid Tylenol, Motrin, Zyrtec and Benadryl for children and infants because of impurities in the drugs.
Small metal particles, below-standard inactive ingredients and too much of certain active ingredients were given as the cause for the withdrawals.
The NYT said this was “at least the fifth recall for consumers of McNeil products in less than a year because of quality control issues.”
Prof. Tony Jaques of RMIT University, Australia, has criticized J&J not only for marketing “vulnerable” capsules when “tamper-proof” tablets were available, but for trying to hide behind the name of a subsidiary (McNeil) when a controversy breaks out.
J&J’s handling of the new Tylenol recall by referring to McNeil shows that it is up to its old tricks.
J&J took flak earlier this year for taking 20-months to respond to FDA complaints that some Tylenol products exuded a foul odor and could cause nausea and diarrhea.
J&J said about 60 million bottles of various drug products including Tylenols had been recalled because of such problems.
Fines Paid, Bribery Charged
Two J&J units last week agreed to pay $81 million to resolve criminal and civil charges that they promoted epilepsy drug Topamax for unapproved uses.
The drug allegedly was improperly used for psychiatric conditions including bipolar disorder and alcohol dependency.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Justice Dept. accused J&J of paying tens of millions of dollars in kickbacks to nursing home pharmacies to boost sales of drugs.
The payments were said to be disguised as grants or “educational funding,” said the suit.
Sales of the antipsychotic drug Risperdal were said to have helped Omnicare’s purchase of J&J drugs to nearly triple from $100 million to $280 million a year.
J&J drugs were said to have been used for “chemical restraint” of patients.
Tylenol Falsities Hurt PR, Media, Assns.
The continued false descriptions of J&J’s reaction to the 1982 Tylenol murders, often described as the “gold standard of crisis handling,” is damaging not only to the PR industry but to the media which repeat the false description, PR groups that often cite it, and J&J itself.
We’re reminded of the 1995 Stephen King movie “The Langoliers,” in which spherical creatures with a mouthful of sharp, churning teeth and bottomless throats devour everything in their path.
They are erasers of reality.
J&J, an aggressive marketer intent on maximizing profits, has never been a keen fan of PR. One indication is that its corporate PR dept. had only five people in 1982.
Recent incidents as described above are helping to reveal the true colors of the company.
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