Johnson & Johnson announced early in February 2019 that it would be showing the price of its prescription medications in television ads going forward. Many consider this a breath of fresh air in a time where prescription drug prices are exceedingly high, and tensions are running high against pharmaceutical companies that people believe are partly to blame for the opioid crisis.
On the other hand, the move comes along with a price increase for many of their prescriptions that happened a month before the announcement. Plus, more than 500 opioid lawsuits were filed against the pharmaceutical company as of last year.
Most people know Johnson & Johnson for its baby powder and Band-Aids, but it actually sells a wide variety of medical products and home remedies from acne cream to HIV medications. So, what does this new form of transparency mean for pharmaceutical consumers and which drugs do Johnson & Johnson actually make?
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Johnson & Johnson offers a wide variety of medications that can be obtained via prescription. Their medicines can be used to treat pain, hypertension, rheumatic diseases, cancer, diabetes, HIV, ADHD, and many other diseases. Like most medications, these drugs come with benefits and side effects. However, some of their medications contain potentially addictive substances including opioids. Here are some of the notable medications that Johnson & Johnson offers:
Duragesic. This is a brand name for an opioid called fentanyl, which is one of the strongest opioids and may be the most potent one intended for use in humans. It’s specifically used in opioid-tolerant patients. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), fentanyl should be reserved for patients with a high enough tolerance that it’s “severe enough to require daily, around-the-clock, long-term opioid treatment and for which alternative treatment options are inadequate.”
Fentanyl is also used in epidurals because it’s fast-acting and useful in unpredictable deliveries. Fentanyl is a major cause of overdose in the opioid epidemic because it’s mixed into heroin, making it much stronger. However, street fentanyl usually comes from illicit sources, like clandestine labs. Still, the FDA warns that addiction, abuse, and misuse are threats even in recommended doses of fentanyl and they recommend that Duragesic should be used when alternatives have been ineffective.
Ultram. Ultram is a prescription drug that includes the opioid tramadol hydrochloride as its active ingredient. Tramadol is an opioid that is used to treat severe acute and chronic pain. It may also be used to treat fibromyalgia. Tramadol, like other opioids, can cause physical dependence and addiction, though it is generally safe at prescribed doses. Still, it’s important to speak to your doctor if you start to experience symptoms of chemical dependence.
Ultracet. Ultracet is the Johnson & Johnson brand name for a pain reliever that combines two active substances including tramadol hydrochloride and acetaminophen. Acetaminophen is an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication that’s used in Tylenol. The combination of these two chemicals serves to increase the analgesic effects and reduce inflammation at the same time.
Concerta. Concerta is the brand name for a prescription drug that contains methylphenidate, a chemical commonly used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and narcolepsy. It’s also sold under the name Ritalin. Concerta is an extended-release form of the medication that’s designed to be effective for up to 12 hours. Methylphenidate is a nervous system stimulant that helps to improve focus and cognitive function. However, it can also cause physical dependence, especially when it’s abused. Prescription stimulants are often used on college campuses to increase study and test-taking performance. In some cases, the drug is used recreationally for its stimulating, euphoric effects.
For the past decade, opioid addiction and overdose death rates have been steadily rising. And in the past few years, overdose deaths have spiked. According to municipalities across the country that have filed more than a thousand lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies for the toll the crisis has taken on their towns, big drug companies like Johnson & Johnson are to blame. But are they the true source of the problem?
Americans who are suffering from pain are routinely prescribed opioids, whether their pain is from a recent injury or if they’ve just had their wisdom teeth removed. Opioids are prescribed for injuries, surgery, and chronic pain. Doctors often would prefer to prescribe you more than you need rather than have you doubled over in pain one day when you run out before you’re recovered.
A large number of the millions of pills prescribed are never used for their original purpose, and they are placed in medicine cabinets or given to friends.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, family, friends, and personal prescriptions are three major sources of nonmedical opioid use.
That means there is a clear link between prescription drugs and opioid addiction. However, only a small fraction of the total number of people who are prescribed opioids become addicted, and it’s rare for people to use the drugs as directed and then become addicted.
Usually, someone has to use doses that are too high, too frequent, or not prescribed to them to start developing a substance use disorder. Of course, opioid prescriptions are serious drugs, and you should notify your doctor if you feel like you are becoming dependent.
The pharmaceutical companies respond to demand and can’t actually prescribe anyone opioids on their own. At the same time, doctors will want to use the tools they have at their disposal, and an opioid may mean the difference between debilitating pain and comfortable recovery. Plus, prescriptions aren’t the only source of opioids that have contributed to the epidemic.
Transnational criminal organizations like the Mexican cartels have facilitated an influx of illicit opioids into the United States. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), opioids are among the greatest drug threats to Americans, and the cartels have contributed to the ease by which a person can obtain an illicit opioid. Heroin is the second easiest illicit drug to get after marijuana.
The pharmaceutical companies do contribute to the overall abundance of opioids in the U.S., but the opioid epidemic is a much more complicated problem that comes from more than just one source.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018, October 03). Opioid Overdose. from https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/maps/rxrate-maps.html
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018, December 19). Prescription Opioid Data. from https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/data/prescribing.html
Drug Enforcement Administration. (2017, October). 2017 National Drug Threat Assessment. from https://www.dea.gov/documents/2017/10/01/2017-national-drug-threat-assessment
Erman, M. (2019, January 11). J&J raises U.S. prices on around two dozen drugs. from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-johnson-johnson-drugpricing/jj-raises-u-s-prices-on-around-two-dozen-drugs-idUSKCN1P42VY
Fisher, N. (2018, October 19). Opioid Lawsuits On Par To Become Largest Civil Litigation Agreement In U.S. History. from https://www.forbes.com/sites/nicolefisher/2018/10/18/opioid-lawsuits-on-par-to-become-largest-civil-litigation-agreement-in-u-s-history/#3b3c71b7fb43
Johnson & Johnson. (2018, October). Johnson & Johnson Manufactured/Marketed Prescription Drugs. from https://www.drugs.com/manufacturer/johnson-amp-johnson-consumer-inc-75.html
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, January). Prescription opioid use is a risk factor for heroin use. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/relationship-between-prescription-drug-heroin-abuse/prescription-opioid-use-risk-factor-heroin-use
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (n.d.). HIGHLIGHTS OF PRESCRIBING INFORMATION. from https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2016/019813s069lbl.pdf