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Feds Probe J&J On Recalled Hip Implant Marketing

That was part of an embarrassing spate of J&J recalls of artificial joints, contact lenses, prescription drugs and over-the-counter medicines that began in September 2009. Reasons range from contamination with bacteria and incorrect levels of a drug's active ingredient to a nauseating smell on containers and liquid medicines that may contain tiny metal shavings.

Lost product sales and expensive, ongoing factory upgrades have cost the company, based in New Brunswick, N.J., well over $1 billion.

Artificial joint systems, made of high-tech metals, plastics or ceramic, replace deteriorated joints causing severe pain and limiting mobility, usually in older folks with advanced arthritis. Hip replacement parts include the top of the thigh bone, the ball atop that and a plate lining the hip socket.

They're generally expected to last at least 10 to 20 years. In the case of the recalled DePuy ASR hip systems, one in eight patients needed theirs replaced within five years.

Attorneys representing patients needing replacements have alleged Johnson & Johnson knew about the problems with the DePuy hip systems back in 2008, but didn't stop selling them until 2009 and didn't recall the remaining products until 2010. The company has denied that and said it acted properly. It has set aside about $1 billion to cover costs of the recall and lawsuits.

Last month, the first trial began among thousands of lawsuits brought by people accusing J&J of knowingly selling faulty implants. The fraud and negligence case, brought by a former prison guard, is being heard by a jury in Los Angeles.

Artificial hips and knees from multiple manufacturers have been recalled for various problems in recent years.

Just last week, Johnson & Johnson issued a recall on a different line of its hip implants, the "Adept" brand all-metal total hip replacement system, also because a higher-than-expected percentage of one part of them had to be replaced.

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