A Johnson & Johnson drug approved for the treatment of a handful of mood or mental disorders is coming under fire for causing unwanted male breast development.
Risperdal was approved in the US market in the early 1990s. It is prescribed mainly as an antipsychotic, for the treatment of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. It is also prescribed as a mood stabilizer for irritability in people with autism.
However, among the drug’s side effects, patients say there another one that they were not told about: gynecomastia, or development of male breasts. Specifically a group of men who took the drug in the early 2000’s say that gynecomastia was not disclosed to them clearly.
In total, the new lawsuit will represent 13,000 patients who Jason Itkin, the lead lawyer, say were “injured by the drug.”
Among the patients is Eddie Bible. Bible recounts having taken Risperdal for the treatment of anxiety and bipolar disorder when he was 13. "They put me on this Risperdal. The doctors said, 'Well, Risperdal was helping some.' To me, it didn't really help, because a year and a half later, I had gynecomastia."
Bible’s side effects were so bad that he thought at one point he would have to get a training bra. He also vividly recalls being publicly shamed for his appearance. "I'd go to the locker room, and people would point and stare. Everybody picking on you for being a boy with boobs. ... It's just ... depressing,” said Bible.
It wasn’t until 2006 that the manufacturers disclosed gynecomastia as a side effect of Risperdal. And that was too little too late for Bible and the thousands of others who had already taken the drug without full knowledge of how the drug would affect their bodies. "If I knew what the side effects would be of the medication, I would have never taken it," Bible said
"Looking back on it, I feel like an experiment," he said.
This is not the first time Risperdal has been in the legal spotlight. In 2012, Johnson & Johnson settled a multimillion dollar lawsuit for promoting the drug can treat dementia without sufficient evidence or approval.
For Bible and others like him, suing Johnson & Johnson for disfigurement goes beyond monetary compensation. They want to make sure that a drug company that helps treat conditions in kids live up to the highest standards so as to avoid future damages, the likes of which they’ve had to endure.
However, the road to getting compensation may be harder than expected. Earlier this week, a Pennsylvania judge ruled to dismiss the case on the grounds of "inadequate" expert testimony. The decision is currently being appealed.
Additional sources: CNN