Like many prescription drugs, the magnitude of Risperdal’s side effects only came to the public’s awareness after many people had been negatively affected. Risperdal has many downsides. But the one that’s garnered the most attention is young men growing breasts after regular use. This can lead to psychological damage, and to painful procedures like liposuction to reverse breast growth. Many young men who’ve experienced this condition, called gynecomastia, have successfully sued the drug’s manufacturer.
The Drug and its Uses
Risperdione, the generic name for the medication sold as Risperdal, was originally used to treat schizophrenia. It rebalances the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine to improve mood, thinking and behavior.
But since being approved by the FDA in 1993, doctors have expanded the conditions they treat with Risperdal. People with anxiety, depression and attention deficit disorder became candidates for the drug. Many of these patients were children. Doctors prescribed Risperdal to make autistic people less irritable. Elderly people with dementia also were prescribed Risperdal, mostly to make their behavior easier for nursing home staff to manage. Janssen, a pharmaceutical subsidiary of Johnson and Johnson, promoted Risperdal as a solution for the confusion, hostility, agitation and impulsiveness that often accompanies dementia.
Unfortunately, Risperdal has a long list of side effects. Soon patients were suffering, with some of the worst side effects commonly afflicting children and the elderly.
Risperdal’s common side effects include dizziness, increased heart rate, headaches, fatigue, sexual dysfunction, constipation and increased appetite.
More serious and less common side effects include increasing the hormone prolactin. This hormone, produced in the pituitary gland, is crucial for lactation. When it’s artificially stimulated by medication, it can lead to osteoporosis and increased bone fractures. Women can stop having their menstrual period. Boys and men may experience erectile dysfunction, lose their sex drives and grow breasts. They may even develop galactorrhea, which means their enlarged breasts begin to produce milk.
Other serious side effects include high blood sugar, weight gain, diabetes and uncontrollable movements such as jerking, tremors, chewing and tongue rolling. Elderly people – such as those being treated with Risperdal for dementia – face an increased risk of strokes.
All these awful side effects have led to lawsuits. Since 2012, Johnson and Johnson has been settling lawsuits involving the drug. Some of the plaintiffs were men who experienced gynecomastia and galactorrhea after using Risperdal. The company also paid $2.2 billion in civil and criminal fines in 2013 for improperly marketing Risperdal to children and old people.
A Continuing Issue
Since many people have suffered from gynecomastia, galactorrhea, and other Risperdal-related side effects, the lawsuits will continue. Hopefully, many of the afflicted will receive justice and healthy settlements.