A pharmaceutical company receives a letter from someone threatening to taint one of its products. The next day the company recalls all of that product from store shelves, pulls its related advertising and holds a news conference warning the public not to buy it.
In 1982, Johnson & Johnson received no threats or extortion demands before seven people died after taking Tylenol capsules tainted with cyanide. Once that happened, the company acted quickly and responsibly, recalling millions of bottles of Tylenol at a huge cost.
The exceptional part of this story, which concerns a Japanese firm, is that the company acted after receiving just a threat.
Japan's leading eyedrop maker, Santen Pharmaceutical, announced June 15 that it would recall all of its eyedrop products, totaling 2.5 million units, after receiving the day before a blackmail letter making the poison threat and demanding 20 million yen (about $190,000).
The decision will cost the Osaka-based ophthalmic product maker much more than that--about 300 million yen ($2.8 million), a company spokesman says.
The news hit Santen's stock price on June 16, pushing it down 6.6% to 2,280 yen at one stage in the morning session, according to Reuters.
Santen reported 6.9 billion yen in over-the-counter sales of eyedrops in the first quarter--about 8% of overall annual company sales, the spokesman says.
"We think the safety of consumers is a top priority," the spokesman says. The company should have completed the recall and replaced all its eyedrop products with more securely wrapped versions in about two weeks, he says.
Outliers congratulates Santen on its costly--and eminently responsible--public service move.
Medical impostor. For almost eight hours, Gary Stearley did a good job as a physician's assistant. Problem is, he's not a physician's assistant.
Early this month Stearley, a 26-year-old homeless man with a history of psychiatric problems, bluffed and charmed his way into 422-bed Mercy Hospital of Pittsburgh posing as a medical student; he spent almost an entire shift making emergency room rounds with physician Gregory Larkin before his trickery was discovered.
Larkin told the Associated Press that Stearley had done a good job on the rounds, even helping him flush a wound with water. When asked if he would worked with Stearley again, Larkin responded, "If he had the proper credentials, sure."
Larkin continued, "He clearly had not just watched a few episodes of `ER.' He definitely did his homework."
Police officials said they weren't sure of Stearley's motives; one officer said that after talking with him it seemed as if he were "acting out his passion to be an `ER' person."
On June 14 a circuit court judge in Pittsburgh ordered Stearley held for trial with a bond of $25,000 on charges of trespassing and false impersonation.
One detail deserves special note: Larkin said that part of the reason Stearley was able to charm his way in to the hospital was that he came armed with food for the nursing staff.
Now doesn't that make you feel better?
From jock to doc. Here's something you don't hear every day: 6-foot-5, 350-pound Mark Adickes used to play in the National Football League; now he's a Harvard Medical School graduate.
Seven years after retiring from the NFL, Adickes, 39, this week is beginning a residency in orthopedic surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. He played as an offensive lineman for the Kansas City Chiefs and the Washington Redskins.
In a commencement speech at Harvard earlier this month, Adickes gave credit to his wife, Jackie, for helping bring about his jock-to-doc transformation. And he said his rough-and-tumble years on the football field have given him a first-hand knowledge of pain that he hopes will help when he's treating patients. He plans to specialize in sports medicine once his residency training is complete in six years.
Adickes had played football since he was 9 years old and loved it. "I take a lot more pride in going to medical school."
As he should. And Outliers is betting that Adickes will be a doctor whose patients follow his directions.
A Web of sex. Healtheon WebMD didn't appreciate Web-spinner James Michael Smith's attempt at entrepreneurial cleverness.
Smith, of Atlanta, opened shop on the World Wide Web with the domain name of wbmd.com, offering customers Viagra (no prescription needed) and sex-related toys and other items. Healtheon, the giant Internet healthcare portal whose domain name is webmd.com, complained Smith was trying to divert WebMD visitors to his sex emporium and feared it would give them a bad name.
So, of course, Healtheon sued him.
Smith registered a "confusingly similar" domain name with the intent to unlawfully profit from it, Healtheon's lawsuit, filed May 24, charges. Healtheon's suit requests damages and a court order for Smith to surrender the domain name of his renegade site.
Smith shut down his Web site after hearing Healtheon had taken legal action against him.
Would Smith's effort to make a buck really have damaged Healtheon? Now, we'll never know.
Power of the Web. In Providence, R.I., a Web site meant to allow consumers to learn the license status of healthcare workers will be changed after nurses and others complained that their home addresses and phone numbers had been posted.
Denise Swartz, a nurse, told the Associated Press that she was most concerned about protecting the privacy of psychiatric nurses and nurses who work in prisons.
In Anchorage, Alaska, the confidential medical records of as many as 20 people were recently posted on a company's Web site and made available to any online user in the world.
The company realized the mistake and removed the records.
The posting of the patients' names, home addresses, Social Security numbers and medical data was an embarrassing human error, says Dan Kirkwood, president and owner of Eagle Innovations, the Rolling Meadows, Ill.-based company that posted the data.
Sounds like too much of a good thing.