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Makers Of Infant Tylenol, Motrin Allegedly Waited A Year Before Doing Anything About Contaminated Meds

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tylenol-on-store-shelfIf you think you can rely on name brands to uphold a higher standard of quality, think again. Reuters reports McNeil Consumer Health, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, pleaded guilty yesterday to selling liquid medicine contaminated with metal and mold. The liquid medicines included Children’s Motrin and Infants’ Tylenol. The company has agreed to pay $25 million dollars to resolve the case.

From 2008-2010, McNeil Consumer Health issued a series of recalls involving both boxed and liquid medications manufactured at their Fort Washington, Pennsylvania plant. The recalls involved hundreds of millions of packages of over-the-counter medications, including Tylenol, Motrin, Benadryl, and other well-known, oft-used brands.

In addition to metal particles getting into liquid medicines, there were moldy odors and labeling problems. For example, the label for Sudafed allergy tablets incorrectly repeated the word “not” to say “do not not divide, crush, chew or dissolve the tablet.”

The company’s legal problems began in 2009 after a customer issued a complaint about black specks in the bottom of an Infants’ Tylenol bottle. The specks turned out to be small particles of nickel and chromium. The mass recalls that followed seriously damaged Johnson & Johnson’s reputation and caused huge declines in sales, including a $900 million decrease in 2010 alone.

No one was injured by the metal specks or oversights in quality standards, but prosecutors on the case say McNeil Consumer Healthcare was aware of the problem for over a year before issuing recalls or seeking any sort of solution. The metal contamination was eventually traced back to faulty manufacturing equipment and the company has taken steps to remedy the problem.

Carol Goodrich, a spokeswoman for McNeil Consumer Healthcare, said the plea agreement “closes a chapter” and that the company has “been implementing enhanced quality and oversight standards across its entire business.”

Consumers — especially new parents — often reach for name brands believing they’re spending money on a higher quality product. It’s disheartening and incredibly scary to know any part of a company as large and as trusted as Johnson & Johnson was knowingly manufacturing and selling a tainted product intended for use in infants and children. It certainly doesn’t give me the warm fuzzies about their other products.

The Food and Drug Administration said the potential for serious health consequences in this case was low, but it does make you wonder which other manufacturing giants are cutting corners and knowingly putting consumers at risk. McNeil Consumer Health has not yet reopened their doors, but plan to once FDA-specified safety measures are in place. Still, I think most parents will be checking their medications thoroughly before administering any to their children.

(Photo: Niloo / Shutterstock.com)