June 8, 2010 -- A Congressional probe into a "phantom" 2009 recall of Motrin pain relief caplets is causing headaches for the pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson.
On Monday afternoon, Johnson & Johnson CEO William Weldon was due to respond to a formal inquiry about the matter from Rep. Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Rep. Towns is seeking more details surrounding what he described as a "phantom recall" of Motrin caplets supposedly carried out last June for Johnson & Johnson by an outside contractor, San Diego-based WIS International.
In July 2009, Johnson & Johnson's consumer division, McNeil Consumer Healthcare, began officially recalling Motrin caplets thought to be dissolving improperly resulting in possible adverse effects.
Jenny Rosenberg, a spokesman for Rep. Towns, said Monday evening that Weldon had not responded to the inquiry. Towns has asked that Weldon respond by 4 p.m. "Johnson & Johnson has not yet complied with the Committee's request for documents," Rosenberg said in a statement issued at 6:15 p.m. Monday. "If necessary, to ensure cooperation with the Committee's investigation, further action will be taken." At 7 p.m. Johnson & Johnson issued a statement that read: "We have been in contact with the Committee today, and per that discussion, we have submitted documents they requested. We look forward to continuing to cooperate with the Committee."
"Rather than doing the right thing and announcing a recall, we have learned that the drug company hired contractors to basically sneak into stores to purchase the products as if they were legitimate customers," Towns said in a statement last week. Towns called the Motrin case a "phantom recall" at a May 27 hearing.
Last week, the Oversight Committee uncovered a document titled "Motrin Purchase Project" purportedly sent to WIS by Inmar, a Winston-Salem, N.C.-based supply chain management specialist. Towns's spokeswoman said the document indicates that a division of Inmar was contracted by Johnson & Johnson's consumer division, McNeil Consumer Healthcare, and that WIS, in turn, was subcontracted by Inmar. WIS workers were instructed to go into stores and buy up all the Motrin IB Caplets they found, according to the document, which was made public by the committee. "There must be no mention of this being a recall of the product!" the Motrin Purchase Project memo read.
Sharon Joyner-Payne, a spokeswoman for Inmar's Reverse Logistics division, formerly known as Carolina Supply Chain Services (CSCS), confirmed that the company was notified of the Oversight Committee's probe and that it was looking into the matter. "We've received an inquiry from [Rep. Towns] and at the moment we're reviewing it," Joyner-Payne said.
Bonnie Jacobs, a spokeswoman for Johnson & Johnson's McNeil Consumer Healthcare division, also confirmed that the company had received the committee's inquiries. "We're looking into them and we will respond," Jacobs said.
Vijay Bakhru, counsel for WIS, declined comment. WIS's website bills the company as a leader in inventory counting.
The Oversight Committee came upon the supposed stealth recall while looking into a separate recall of some McNeil pediatric medicine brands. McNeil has done four recalls of products, including Tylenol, Motrin and Zyrtec, over the past eight months.
Documents supplied to the Oversight Committee by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration showed that the FDA originally found out about the alleged secret Motrin recall last year, and looked into it, prompting the official recall, which was never publicized and involved 88,000 caplets thought to be problematic. The FDA was initially told by Johnson & Johnson that its contractors were merely performing a statistical sampling, according to an FDA document made public by the committee. The dissolution problem was first identified in November of 2008, the FDA document said.
Among the key questions the committee posed to Johnson & Johnson's Weldon: whether the company ever used outside contractors or employees in other instances to purchase products suspected of being defective.