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A report from the Connecticut Health I-Team at the New Haven Independent has shocking news: DePuy Orthopaedics — the Johnson & Johnson subsidiary responsible for a massive defective hip recall — paid more than $80 million to doctors across the country for promotion, research and consultations on its defective hips.

While the surgeons who received the payments try to defend them, consumer advocates say such payments pose a conflict of interest. The US Department of Justice brought charges against four medical device companies – including DePuy – in 2007, claiming the companies were using kickbacks to market their products. The charges were later dropped when the companies paid fines and promised to pay doctors for only legitimate consulting charges.

However, DePuy’s kickbacks appear to have continued. Company disclosures show that DePuy paid nearly $48 million to doctors in 2009 and nearly $33 million through September 2010. Some sugeons received more than $1 million in payments just this year, even as DePuy recalled more than 93,000 defective ASR hips.

Do you know if your doctor received one of these kickbacks? View the list here.

DePuy’s defective ASR hip systems were first manufactured in 2003 and subsequently delivered to at least 93,000 patients worldwide. However, DePuy claims it did not maintain a list of patients who received its ASR Hip and is unable to warn its customers directly. DePuy’s failure to keep accurate records puts the burden on you to determine if you received a defective hip replacement.

[What You Need To Know About Johnson & Johnson’s DePuy Artificial Hip Recall]

Johnson & Johnson (DePuy’s parent company) has been the subject of 11 recalls in just the past year, Unsurprisingly, these defects and substantial number of recalls is what happens when companies lose focus, take short cuts and put profits ahead of safety. Johnson & Johnson’s admission that is has lost its way is a good first start. Too many companies fail to acknowledge the problems that lead to safety recalls.

Published reports confirm that Johnson & Johnson and DePuy knew about the artificial hip defect for years, but failed to correct the problem or warn patients. In some cases, Johnson & Johnson replaced defective ASR hips with another defective ASR hip after patients had initial problems.

Symptoms indicating a possibly problem with an artificial hip include:

  • Serious / Chronic Pain
  • Inflammation / Swelling
  • Loosening of the Hip Implant
  • Fracture of the Bone Around the Hip Implant

In addition, the defective DePuy hips may pose a serious risk of cancer. The metal-on-metal construction of the DePuy ASR artificial hip permits grinding and allows metal particles to contaminate the surrounding tissue. These metal particles — cobalt and chromium — enter the blood stream and can be distributed to other areas of the body.

In May 2010, a State of Alaska Epidemiology Bulletin found that elevated chromium and cobalt ions were commonly detected in the blood and urine of metal-on-metal artificial hip patients, causing metallosis (formation of giant cells and fibrosis in the surrounding tissue).

[DePuy Hip Recall: Frequently Asked Questions]

In September 2010, a motion was filed to consolidate all federal court DePuy Hip product defect litigation in an MDL. Just a few days ago, the US Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation consolidated all DePuy hip recall lawsuits filed in the federal courts to be heard in front of Judge David A. Katz in the US District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. DePuy defective hip lawsuits filed in state courts will likely remain independent cases.

"MDL" is shorthand for "Multi-District Litigation." An MDL is similar to — but different than — a class action. In a class action, only a few people (the class representatives) sue on behalf of a large number of people (the class). In an MDL, each individual plaintiff maintains his or her own individual claim. However, each individual claim is combined for portions of the litigation, such as discovery on the defendant/manufacturer. Although some states have MDL litigation, the DePuy Hip Recall MDL has been filed in federal court. If the MDL is established in November, all current federal court claims — any all newly filed federal claims — will be transferred to the MDL. There are various advantages and disadvantages to joining the MDL. Plaintiffs may be able to avoid the federal court MDL by filing their claim in state court rather than federal court.

In response to the DePuy hip recall, Irish orthopaedic surgeons are demanding a joint replacement register to monitor the effectiveness and safety of hip replacements. A report in the Dallas Morning News suggests thathip and joint replacement surgery is becoming more popular with many younger patients opting for knee or hip replacement surgery.

Patients who may have received a defective hip should get more information about the DePuy hip recall and potential dangers.

[More information on Johnson & Johnson’s many recent recalls]

(c) Copyright 2010 Brett A. Emison

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