Johnson & Johnson's Woes Go Far Beyond O.B. Tampon Shortage

Now that I've read this excellent New York Times piece on the big picture at Johnson & Johnson, I feel even more gratitude to their spokesperson for getting back to us repeatedly about the o.b. tampon shortage. I also feel sympathy for her; I wouldn't want her job.

To sum up the long article, Johnson & Johnson sounds like it's something of a general mess, with 288 million items recalled last year, including bottles of Tylenol, Motrin and Benadryl. The weird o.b. situation — sudden shortages around the country with no explanation from the company beyond "production problems" — appears par for the course.

Johnson & Johnson has had to recall such a variety of products because of quality-control problems across product lines, in multiple factories and in several units last year. Some of its consumer products, for instance, may have contained bits of metal. Others came in bottles with a moldy smell. And some products have gone missing from stores with hardly an explanation. All of this has put the company and its manufacturing under the intense scrutiny of lawmakers and officials at the Food and Drug Administration.

“It looks like a plane spinning out of control,” says David Vinjamuri, a former J.& J. marketing employee who now trains brand managers at his company, ThirdWay Brand Trainers.

And about the o.b. mystery: no further light is cast, but at least it bears a mention:

What is most perplexing is the seeming inability of executives to solve — and satisfactorily explain — the manufacturing issues that dog the company. Federal regulators have continued to fault the McNeil unit for failing to identify and address systemic problems at its plants, and consumers remain mystified about why simple products like O.B. tampons can disappear from drugstore shelves.

This program aired on January 17, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

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Carey Goldberg Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.



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