J&J Agrees to $117M Settlement Over Pelvic Mesh Devices

By The Associated Press

Johnson & Johnson has agreed to a $117 million multistate settlement over allegations it deceptively marketed its pelvic mesh products designed to support women’s sagging pelvic organs.

Ohio’s attorney general said on Oct. 17, an investigation found that J&J, the world’s biggest health product maker, violated state consumer protection laws by not fully disclosing the devices’ risks.

Numerous women who had the once-popular, hammock-like devices implanted claim they caused severe pain, bleeding, infections, and other complications.

Johnson & Johnson and its Ethicon surgical products unit settled with 41 states and the District of Columbia.

“These companies didn’t paint a clear picture of the device’s medical risks, preventing patients from making well-informed decisions,” Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said in a statement.

Johnson & Johson
Large banners hang in an atrium at the headquarters of Johnson & Johnson in New Brunswick, N.J., on July 30, 2013. (Mel Evans/AP Photo)

The products, also called transvaginal mesh, are a synthetic material surgically implanted through the vagina of women whose pelvic organs have sagged or who suffer from stress urinary incontinence—bladder leakage when they cough, sneeze or lift heavy objects. Such incontinence is estimated to affect 3% to 17% of women and sometimes becomes severe after age 70.

Some of the products are still on the U.S. market, and hundreds of thousands of women have had the devices surgically implanted, according to Yost’s office.

An Ethicon spokeswoman noted the settlement didn’t include an admission of any misconduct. She said the devices “are considered by many to be the gold standard for the treatment of stress urinary incontinence.”

“Ethicon has acted appropriately and responsibly in the research, development, and marketing of our transvaginal mesh products,” which were launched around the world in 1998, she added.

About 25,000 U.S. women with complications have sued Johnson & Johnson, the company said. Those lawsuits aren’t affected by the settlement.

It comes as J&J is swamped with thousands of lawsuits claiming patients were harmed by products including baby powder, opioid painkillers and prescription drugs such as its schizophrenia drug Risperdal. Headlines about the litigation and significant jury verdicts against J&J, including an $8 billion punitive award to a young man who grew breasts while taking Risperdal, have depressed J&J’s stock price for nearly a year. Most of the verdicts against J&J have been overturned or are being appealed.

A container of Johnson's baby powder
A container of Johnson’s baby powder in San Fra., Calif., on July 13, 2018. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The pelvic mesh deal requires the company to cease its claims that surgical technique can eliminate any risks. They must disclose a list of risks, including loss of sexual function, mesh eroding into the vagina, and the possible need for corrective surgery.

The settlement covers the District of Columbia and these states: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Ethicon said it settled separately with Washington state and has cases pending in California, Kentucky, Mississippi, and West Virginia.

J&J shares closed Thursday up $1.00 to $136.17, still well below their 52-week high of $148.99 late last fall.

By Linda A. Johnson