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A jury in Philadelphia ruled Thursday that Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, should pay $8 billion in punitive damages after failing to adequately warn patients that one of their anti-psychotic drugs that is used to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and irritability associated with autistic disorder, could cause abnormal breast growth in males.

The lawsuit filed by Nicholas Murray, 26, came after he was prescribed the drug Risperdal at age 9 for symptoms related to autism spectrum disorder. Two of his treating pediatricians at the time said it would help with sleep-related issues he was experiencing. Murray claimed that taking the drug as a child caused a hormonal imbalance that led him to develop an incurable condition known as gynecomastia, in which men grow breasts. Attorney for Murray said in a statement that Johnson & Johnson marketed the drug for unapproved, off-label use in children to help increase the company's profits, choosing "billions over children."

According to Murray's lawyers, Risperdal has a tendency to elevate levels of a hormone known as "prolactin" in men. That can lead to the development of female breast tissue, which is what happened in Murray after he was prescribed the drug for off-label use in 2003.

"Johnson and Johnson is a company which has lost its way," the lawyers for the plaintiff, Thomas R. Kline and Jason Itkin, told The Washington Post. "This jury, as have other juries in other litigations, once again imposed punitive damages on a corporation that valued profits over safety and profits over patients. Johnson & Johnson and Janssen chose billions over children.”

In a statement published to their website, Johnson & Johnson said the punitive damages awarded to Murray were "grossly disproportionate" and are confident the ruling will be overturned. The company added that they had been "precluded from presenting a meaningful defense due to the Court’s exclusion of key evidence."

"As a result, the jury did not hear evidence as to how the label for Risperdal clearly and appropriately outlined the risks associated with the medicine, or the benefits Risperdal provides to patients with serious mental illness," the company said in its statement.

Murray isn't the only one who has filed a lawsuit against the company over the drug. Thousands of other plaintiffs have filed lawsuits against the company.

Photo: Getty Images

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