Thousands of Risperdal lawsuits have been filed in U.S. courts on behalf of men and boys who allegedly developed gynecomastia due to treatment with the antipsychotic drug. Now a new photography project is vividly capturing the suffering endured by victims of this disfiguring condition.
Entitled “Risperdal Boys,” the project features six young men, all of whom experienced excessive breast development after they were prescribed the medication. According to PetaPixel.com, each was featured in a candid portrait, a posed shot in a natural environment, and a shot in front of a backdrop with a single strobe. The photos were taken during a 6-day road trip that covered 10 cities and over 4,000 miles.
“Of the young men who agreed to allow their pictures to be used, to a man, it was because they wanted the world to know what happened to them,” photographer Richard Johnson said.
“All agreed their struggle would be easier if they knew others were facing the same bullying and social isolation that they faced as a boy with breasts,” he continued.
Gynecomastia is marked by the development of female-like breasts in men and boys. The condition may be accompanied by breast pain and tenderness, as well as a discharge from the nipple. Breast growth associated with gynecomastia is permanent, and can only be treated via surgical intervention such as liposuction or mastectomy.
Risperdal is known to increase the amount of prolactin produced by the pituitary gland. While this hormone plays a role in female breast development and lactation, high levels can cause excessive breast growth in males. Prior to October 2006, the Risperdal label characterized gynecomastia as a rare side effect that appeared in less than 1 in 1,000 patients. That month, the prescribing information was updated to note that 2.3% of male adolescents treated Risperdal had developed the condition.
Risperdal is currently indicated to treat adult and adolescent schizophrenia, bipolar disorder in adults and children ages 10-to-17, and irritability in children (5-to-16 years of age) with autistic disorder. While Risperdal was introduced in the 1990s, its pediatric indications weren’t approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) in October 2006.
In November 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that Johnson & Johnson and its Janssen Pharmaceuticals unit had agreed to pay $2.5 million to resolve criminal and civil charges stemming from the marketing of Risperdal and other drugs. Among other things, federal prosecutors had alleged that the companies improperly marketed Risperdal for off-label pediatric indications and concealed gynecomastia and other side effects associated with its use.
More than 18,000 Risperdal lawsuits are currently pending in U.S. courts, most of which involve gynecomastia. Plaintiffs allege that the drug’s manufacturers concealed data linking Risperdal to excessive male breast growth and failed to adequately warn the public about this potential risk. The lawsuits also claim that around 20% of Risperdal prescriptions were written for children, allegedly due to the defendants’ aggressive off-label marketing efforts.