Johnson & Johnson, maker of Tylenol, Motrin and other popular drugs, hopes to reopen its Fort Washington plant soon. In an emailed statement, a Johnson & Johnson spokesperson said the McNeil Consumer Healthcare Facility in Montgomery County “is on track for certification at the end of this year.”
In 2010, the Food and Drug Administration shut down several Johnson and Johnson facilities, including an often-described understaffed one in Fort Washington.
"They had cleanliness problems, there was must and odor in some of the medicine,” said Erik Gordon, a business professor at the University of Michigan. “The kind of stuff you wouldn't expect or stand for in medicines that you’d take or that you’d give your children."
The closure meant jobs lost in the region. The drugs in production there, including liquid Tylenol, disappeared from store shelves.
The company is still attempting to regain lost ground from that time as it works to restore those products and consumer confidence. Johnson & Johnson executive Sandy Peterson told shareholders Tuesday that the company’s overall reputation is strong, reigning in nearly $18 billion in sales last quarter, but emphasized the need to “rebuild customer trust” and “ensure a reliable supply of [over the counter drugs] to retailers and consumers.”
Since the plant closure, Johnson & Johnson said it has implemented new safety standards and oversight procedures.
“We’ve made significant progress,” Peterson said.
The McNeil plant can't operate without approval from the FDA and a federal judge. Gordon says winning over officials won't be easy, but Johnson & Johnson's future success and brand name depend on it.
“It’s like having a teenage kid who cleans his room,” Gordon said. “You go in and, well, it’s nice and the room looks clean, But two days later it looks a like tornado hit it. The FDA will want to make sure that if they let these plants open, they won’t be back six months from now and find out they have to close them again.”
Peterson said the company has been investing additional money and resources, and will continue to do so to ensure they’re in compliance with newly set company standards, along with federal regulations.
On Monday, Johnson & Johnson also settled a class action lawsuit for $23 million, denying allegations from shareholders of poor management of the plant situation.