Did one of the largest drug companies on the planet wage a stealth political campaign that killed thousands of Americans?
A major lawsuit happening in Atlantic City, NJ right now has just turned up secret documents that Tylenol maker McNeil Consumer Healthcare hoped you’d never see.
They tell a shocking tale of how our government was finally ready to pull dangerous extra-strength acetaminophen products off the shelves once and for all just six years ago.
And how McNeil launched a massive lobbying campaign to make sure you never knew about the risks to your liver — and your life — from taking Tylenol.
It was a greedy and deadly conspiracy that put you and millions of other Americans right in harm’s way.
And it may have led all the way to Obama’s office.
Twisting armsSix years ago, the FDA almost grew a backbone. In fact, it quietly declared war on a billion-dollar drug giant.
In 2009, a key FDA advisory panel recommended that America do what dozens of other countries around the world have already done — make Extra Strength Tylenol and other high-dose acetaminophen products available by prescription only.
And that wouldn’t have just made good sense — it would have saved lives.
When I first exposed the risk of acetaminophen more than 10 years ago, I warned that it was becoming the most dangerous drug in America. It’s in hundreds of OTC and prescription meds and is causing 80,000 overdoses and hundreds of deaths every single year.
In fact, acetaminophen is now the leading cause of liver failure in the U.S.
The only problem? The FDA advisory panel’s recommendation was going to cost Tylenol maker McNeil and its parent company Johnson & Johnson big.
And now we know that they pulled every dirty trick in the book — and called in every political favor they could — to keep high-dose acetaminophen on the store shelves. No matter how Americans would up injured — or even dead — as a result.
You see, Extra Strength Tylenol brings in about $400 million a year for McNeil, compared to about $14 million for regular strength. And the company wasn’t pulling the brakes on that gravy train without a fight.
Documents just released during a court case involving a woman whose liver was damaged by Tylenol prove that McNeil ran a massive lobbying campaign to protect Extra Strength Tylenol. One that involved putting pressure on the FDA, Congress and even the Obama Administration.
McNeil President Peter Luther told executives that “We’re being too nice and too worried about stepping on the FDA’s toes” and that it was time to lean on its bought-and-paid-for members of Congress to “put some pressure on FDA.”
Another senior McNeil executive even outlined his plans for Johnson & Johnson to lean on the White House and the federal Office of Management and Budget.
“We have to make this our top priority and pull out all stops,” Luther said in an email.
Can you believe it? Letting the half-brains in Congress and the White House weigh in on the science behind acetaminophen makes about as much sense as letting a bunch of monkeys design the next space shuttle.
But Johnson & Johnson spends around $6.5 million a year to lobby lawmakers and that buys a whole lot of influence.
And I don’t have to tell you what happened next. You can see for yourself the next time you’re at a CVS and see all those bottles of Extra Strength Tylenol lined up on the shelf.
In fact, by the time McNeil and its political friends were done twisting arms at the FDA, the agency failed to make even one single change that its advisors recommended back in 2009.
An agency spokeswoman said those recommendations are still “under review” six years later! Come on — does she think we’re stupid?
McNeil and Johnson & Johnson are now facing hundreds of lawsuits from people whose livers were damaged by Tylenol. Lives that were ruined thanks to greedy drug execs who cared more about their bottom lines than whether you lived or died.
But right now, we can do something that our government should have had the nerve to do six years ago.
We can protect ourselves — and our livers — by steering clear of all acetaminophen products, extra strength or otherwise. And sound the alarm far and wide to make sure your loved ones finally learn just how dangerous these drugs really are.
“New court docs: Maker of Tylenol had a plan to block tougher regulation” Jeff Gerth and T. Christian Miller, September 21, 2015, ProPublica, propublica.org