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The Patch Gives Birth to Controversy

“No comment” or even no response is one of the worst replies you can give to the media, and yet is still commonly used by top companies when responding to a PR disaster. The phrase implies “I don’t know what’s going on,” or “I don’t know how to handle this,” or plain and simple “I’m guilty.” So why do companies continually think it’s okay to respond this way when the media comes questioning?

Johnson & Johnson is no stranger to crisis; the Tylenol recall in 1982 went down in history as one of the worst crises to occur within a company. Now, a new crisis emerged for Johnson & Johnson with the new birth control patch, Ortho Evra. NBC News revealed factual information claiming the company knew about the deadly health risks of its birth control patch for years.

When Ortho Evra first hit the market in 2002, it was an innovative form of birth control that could easily be used by women. According to the NBC News article, doctors reportedly prescribed the patch to 40 million women, and Time magazine called it “one of the best inventions of the year.”

The health risks cited in a petition to the FDA by Public Citizen are shocking. The patch delivers 60 percent more estrogen than the pill. It also sends a continuous flow into the bloodstream for an entire week, whereas the pill is swallowed once daily, instantly dissolving into your system. Due to the higher estrogen levels, Ortho Evra proved to cause 12 times more strokes and 18 times more blood clots than the pill.

And it’s not just the consumers who are shocked; former Johnson & Johnson Vice President Dr. Patrick Caubel unexpectedly quit, acknowledging his disappointment with the company in his resignation.

“I have been involved in the safety evaluation of Ortho Evra since its introduction on the market,” Dr. Caubel said in the NBC News report. “The estrogenic exposure was unusually high, as was the rate of fatalities.”

Another vice president of the company, Dr. Joel Lippman, is suing Johnson & Johnson for firing him. He also wanted to expose the harmful risks of the patch; the company let him go before he got the chance.

Most birth control commercials quickly outline a lengthy list of health risks. Although highlighting the risks hurts sales, at least the dangers are clearly laid out to the public. According to Dr. Sidney Wolfe, medical director of Public Citizen, if Johnson & Johnson told the truth the company’s product sales would suffer.

Many women died due to an excessive amount of blood clots caused by the patch. Adrianna Duffy, a 17-year-old, died from Ortho Evra, and her mother is suing for justice in an attempt to discontinue the product.

So, how does Johnson & Johnson respond to these accusations? When NBC News requested an interview, the company declined, a repeated mistake among business responses. “No comment” or a lack of response stirs up the media and their audiences.

In the 1982 Tylenol recall crisis, the company could not foresee the poisonous bottles being placed on shelves; yet they handled this crisis with urgency and efficiency.

I assume prestigious companies, such as Johnson & Johnson, know how to handle a crisis or know how to prevent the crisis before it happens. The company should have seen this coming, and its crisis management team should have been better prepared. As a student majoring in PR, I know keeping the public in the dark is never a good idea; the truth always eventually comes to the surface.
By Hillary Stroud

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