The Maryland Opioid Operational Command Center came under fire earlier this year after audits found no system in place to manage the spending of funds. The lack of effective policies to manage the money raises concerns about the safe distribution and tracking of drugs. The case echoes back to the lawsuit filed by the City of Annapolis to recoup public safety costs amidst the opioid epidemic, but it is also indicative of wider problems in the pharmaceutical industry. One of the most recent battles against big pharmaceutical companies is the Elmiron controversy, which is currently being seen across the country, and highlights issues around transparency and the responsibility of the industry in public safety.
The case against Janssen Pharmaceuticals
Manufactured by Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a Johnson & Johnson company, Elmiron is commonly prescribed to treat interstitial cystitis, a chronic condition affecting the bladder. Roughly 1 million people in the US are affected by interstitial cystitis, and Emlmiron (pentosan polysulfate sodium) has been prescribed since its approval in 1996. Despite clinical trials highlighting no vision-related side effects, since 2018, a rising number of patients have complained of serious eye problems since using the drug. Elmiron lawyers are now reviewing an increasing number of cases involving severe vision loss and blindness, with patients seeking compensation for serious damage. Pharmaceutical companies are responsible for ensuring that patients are warned about all potential side effects of any medication, and lawyers argue that Janssen Pharmaceuticals have failed in their duty of care.
Did Janssen Pharmaceuticals deliberately withhold information?
Suits filed against the company say that patients were not warned about the danger associated with the drug and withheld information about the trials. Experts say that Janssen Pharmaceuticals should have taken Elmiron off the market as soon as the danger was brought to their awareness, but the drug is still available and widely prescribed today. One case, taken to court in Pennsylvania, highlights the fact that the labeling on the drug described no warnings, yet had already updated its labeling in Canada to warn of visual symptoms following a series of legal battles. This shows that the company knowingly continued to sell the drug on the American market, despite knowing of the serious risks associated with it.
The responsibility of the pharmaceutical industry
Drugs manufacturers have a duty of responsibility to ensure that all medication is rigorously tested before releasing it for distribution. While checks have been put in place by the FDA, the responsibility still lies with the industry, and long-term studies are essential if manufacturers are to know for sure that a drug is safe. As soon as new information comes to light, the manufacturers have an ethical duty to ensure that the medical community is fully aware of the facts.
The recent controversy involving the Maryland Opioid Operational Command Center highlights further problems in the industry. When companies prioritize monetary gain, public health is put at risk. It can only be assumed that money was also the driving force behind Janssen Pharmaceuticals’ failure to be transparent about the known side-effects of Elmiron, and patients are now beginning to pay for that in a very serious way.
The pharmaceutical industry has a huge responsibility when it comes to public health. Recent cases raise concerns about whether it is being driven by true concern for public health, or whether it is more interested in financial gain.