FDA Official: Johnson & Johnson's 'Secret' Recall No Secret


The Motrin saga began in November 2008, when Johnson & Johnson and subsidiary McNeil learned that some of its Motrin tablets were not dissolving properly, and the medication might not work as expected.

Usually when there's a manufacturing problem, the product is recalled even if it does not pose a danger to consumers, as was the case with Motrin.

Instead of a recall, contractors were sent to 5,000 convenience stores around the United States to quietly purchase the defective Motrin without alerting the public.

"I had been told not to say that this was a recall," said Lynn Walther who works for a Portland, Ore., inventory company. "I did not understand why I should be telling someone that this is not a recall when in my mind it was a recall."

In an exclusive interview with ABC News, Walther said that a contractor hired him to walk into convenience stores and quietly buy specific lots of Motrin IB caplet eight-count vials. Although he said his purchases were often met with puzzled looks from store owners, Walther said he had been told not to offer an explanation. Walther said he followed the instructions he'd been given.

"You should simply act like a regular customer while making these purchases," the document stated. "There must be no mention of this being a recall of the product. Run in, find the product, make your purchase and run out."

'I Wish ... I Hadn't Done It

"I wish to this day that I hadn't done it," Walther said. "But I did, and I'm stuck with it."

Walther faxed the instructions to the Oregon Board of Pharmacy, and the papers eventually reached Congress. The plan to buy back Motrin products was taking place across the United States, and 88,000 packages had been purchased.

At a hearing in May 2010, Colleen Goggins, head of the the company's consumer group, said that Johnson & Johnson wasn't behind the buy back, and that it was doing an "audit" to find out where the faulty pills had been sold.

"I don't believe there was any intent to mislead or hide anything," she said during the hearing. Goggins resigned last week.

In June, company CEO William Weldon received a formal inquiry from Rep. Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Today's hearing looked at what Towns described as a "phantom recall" of certain Motrin pills sold in eight-caplet vials carried out for the company in June 2009 by an outside contractor.

The FDA said it had no knowledge of plans to launch the program.

FDA officials said they told Johnson & Johnson to issue a recall before the buyback program had ended. In a statement to ABC News, the agency said: "When the FDA learned that McNeil had hired contractors to secretly purchase product off the shelves, the agency advised McNeil to do a full recall, which the company agreed to initiate in July 2009."

The Associated Press reports contributed to this report.

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