Countless thousands of boys have been prescribed Risperdal to treat behavioral problems, psychological issues, and developmental disorders. What most of these children (and their parents) didn’t know was that Risperdal can cause the development of female breasts in boys.
The condition is called gynecomastia, and the families did not know of the risk because the pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson, parent company of Janssen Pharmaceuticals, didn’t tell them -- despite having internal research that linked the drug to the disease. Risperdal can trigger a dangerous increase in the production of the hormone called prolactin, which can then trigger breast growth.
To make matters worse, Johnson & Johnson illegally promoted Risperdal off-label, encouraging doctors to prescribe the drug to children when the drug was only approved for adults. In 2013, Johnson & Johnson paid $2.2 billion in criminal and civil fines to settle charges of illegally marketing Risperdal.
None of that money went to the boys who were disfigured, bullied, and worse. In February of 2015, the first of thousands of plaintiff’s lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson went to trial, and a Philadelphia jury awarded Austin Pledger $2.5 million in damages. In every case that has gone to trial, the jury has concluded that Johnson & Johnson failed to warn about the potential for its drug to cause boys to grow female breasts.
During the jury trials, the lawyers for the families have uncovered evidence showing that Johnson & Johnson not only knew about the link between Risperdal and gynecomastia, but did not tell the FDA or the scientific community. Johnson & Johnson had gone so far as to solicit scientists to publish a paper discrediting the relationship between the drug and the condition, even though Johnson & Johnson’s internal documents came to the opposite conclusion. When these internal documents were brought into the open, Johnson & Johnson commissioned a “reanalysis” of the hidden study. In performing the so-called “reanalysis” Johnson & Johnson manipulated data to reinforce their original public position. Johnson & Johnson tried to cover-up their cover-up. However, the cover-up was exposed when lawyers for the Yount family confronted Johnson & Johnson witnesses with the hidden data, known as Tab 4. In response, the jury in the Yount case found that Johnson & Johnson did “intentionally falsify, destroy or conceal records containing material evidence in this case.”
The jury awarded Andrew Yount $70 million.
It is difficult to articulate the pain of a boy going through life with female breasts. Vicious ridicule from peers forced many boys into depression and isolation. Many dropped out of school. Most have never had a romantic relationship. Some have been sexually abused. A few have been able to have the costly and painful surgery to have their breasts removed, but it’s clear that the emotional and psychological damage persists.
Here are the stories of a handful of boys, now young men, who suffered the side effects of Risperdal. They found the courage to be photographed and tell their story because they hoped it would raise awareness of the problem and provide some hope to others who have suffered like them.