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A number of outlets – including ABC News and The Wall Street Journal – posted stories with new details about Johnson & Johnson’s attempt to buy up defective Motrin packages in order to avoid an official recall. Congress is currently investigating whether J&J attempted the "phantom" recall without the knowledge of the Food & Drug Administration (FDA).

ABC News reported that, instead of issuing a formal recall, J&J sent contractors into 5,000 convenience stores around the country to buy the defective Motrin without alerting the public.

From ABC News:

[Lynn Walther, who worked as a J&J contractor] said he was following the instructions he’d been given. "You should simply act like a regular customer while making these purchases, the document said. "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 to this day that I hadn’t done it," Walther said. "But I did and I’m stuck with it."

According to The Wall Street Journal report, staff members at Johnson & Johnson’s McNeil Consumer Healthcare unit wrote each other emails stating that they had kept an FDA official informed about the use of a contractor to buy defective Motrin from store shelves. However, an FDA spokesperson said the agency did not know of J&J’s efforts.

Also from the WSJ report:

On May 27, 2009, a McNeil staffer emailed colleagues that the company had "negotiated an agreement" with the FDA that it didn’t need to do a recall. "This was a major win for us as it limits the press that will be seen," the staffer wrote.

Toyota also claimed a "win" when it avoided a recall over sudden acceleration issues. Now it looks like another corporation is playing games with consumer safety and considered it a "win" when safety loses.

[Update September 30, 2010: CNN takes this "inside look at ‘phantom’ drug recalls"; more on Johnson & Johnson recalls]

(c) Copyright 2010 Brett A. Emison

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