House looks into Johnson & Johnson's recalls

TRENTON, N.J. —Congress is investigating whether Johnson & Johnson carried out a second secret recall of faulty pain relievers last year, as a major probe of a dozen J&J recalls escalates.

In the first such recall, packets of possibly defective Motrin were quietly bought from stores across the U.S. in spring 2009.

E-mails just released by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform show a contractor hired for that job wrote to colleagues that his company was considering a "similar but potentially larger recall for July involving Children's Tylenol" for J&J. It's still unknown whether that happened.

"The facts we are uncovering in this investigation are extremely troubling," the committee chairman, Rep. Edolphus "Ed" Towns, D-N.Y., said Friday. "The American people still deserve answers about Johnson and Johnson's recall of ... children's medicine and the phantom methods they have used in other cases to avoid recalls."

Document searches and interviews by panel investigators point to a former J&J employee who claimed the first "phantom recall" in spring 2009 was approved by federal regulators, a person close to the committee's investigation told the Associated Press on Friday. However, that claim appears not to be true, said the source, who requested anonymity because the 4-month-old investigation is continuing.

Meanwhile, Johnson & Johnson said Friday that it still has not decided whether the head of consumer products, Colleen Goggins, will testify at a committee hearing Sept. 30. Hours after the hearing was announced Thursday, J&J said Goggins, 56, will retire in March. CEO William Weldon, who sent Goggins in his stead to the committee's first hearing on May 27, will attend this one.

E-mails released by the committee late Thursday include one written June 30, 2009, by a contractor, WIS International, hired to quietly buy up small containers of Motrin that might have the wrong potency. In discussing the possibility of a similar Children's Tylenol recall, the contractor wrote that his company "will look to explore next week the potential quantities in 400 geographically dispersed stores to 'assess' quantities on shelves" at grocery, drug, convenience and mass discount stores, the e-mail states.

WIS was working as a subcontractor to a second company, Inmar Inc., specializing in product recalls, according to the committee source.

The House committee investigators are still trying to determine whether that recall ever occurred, the source told the AP on Friday.

Spokespeople at the two contracting companies did not respond to AP requests for comment Friday.

Since last September, J&J's McNeil Consumer Health Care, the maker of adult and children's Tylenol, Motrin, Benadryl and other nonprescription medicines, has had nine public recalls due to a variety of safety and effectiveness problems, including contamination with bacteria and with tiny metal shavings. One in April, involving more than 135 million bottles of infants' and children's Tylenol and other medicines, triggered the committee's investigation. J&J also has recalled contact lenses and hip implants this summer.

The FDA does not have the power to order a product recall, but generally works with companies planning one.