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After Children’s Motrin judgment, many skeptical of over-the-counter drugs

Local consumers said Thursday they are less confident about the safety of popular over-the-counter medicines such as ibuprofen, after a Plymouth family whose daughter suffered a horrific reaction to Children’s Motrin was awarded a $63 million judgment against Johnson & Johnson.

Alexander Ruiz, 20, of Framingham

KAYANA SZYMCZAK FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

Alexander Ruiz, 20, of Framingham

“I’m scared of pills,” said Alexander Ruiz, 20, of Framingham. “Just because things are FDA approved, that doesn’t mean anything. Thank you very much; I’m going to get over my headache on my own.”

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In 2003 when Samantha Reckis’s parents gave their 7-year-old daughter Children’s Motrin for a fever, the over-the-counter version of the popular medicine did not contain any warnings about possible side effects, the family’s lawyers said in their case against Johnson & Johnson. Reckis suffered an extremely rare but painful reaction to the medicine, called Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis, in which she lost much of her skin and her sight and suffered through repeated hospitalizations and surgeries.

A Plymouth County jury ruled Wednesday that Johnson & Johnson was liable for not including warnings about potential side effects to Motrin on the medicine’s label. Warning labels for ibuprofen products such as Motrin have since been amended at the request of the US Food and Drug Administration to include descriptions of the early symptoms of the type of reaction Reckis suffered.

But in interviews yesterday, some consumers said they believe medicines available today are safe because of the oversight of regulators such as the FDA.

Chris Montgomery, 29, of Mattapan, with Shaddiff Lopez-Garcia, and their son, C.J.

Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe

Chris Montgomery, 29, of Mattapan, with Shaddiff Lopez-Garcia, and their son, C.J.

“For the most part, with all the regulations they have to pass like the FDA, they’re probably a safe company,” said Chris Montgomery, 29, of Mattapan who has a 1-year-old son. “Motrin’s been around longer than we have.”

However, researchers at Kansas State and Michigan State universities studied how consumers view warning labels and found that many often overlook the notices drugmakers put on the side of their containers. Their research, published last summer, concluded that warning labels were not prominent enough for some consumers to even notice.

Meanwhile, some parents said they are increasingly leery of giving medications to children, even popular over-the-counter versions.

Gilda Fortier, 36, of Bellingham, and her 2-year-old son, Isaac.

KAYANA SZYMCZAK FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

Gilda Fortier, 36, of Bellingham, and her 2-year-old son, Isaac.

“I always check the labels ever since I heard about that Tylenol case,” said Gilda Fortier, 36, of Bellingham, who is the mother of a 2-year-old.

Donald and Aurora Donahue, both 68 of Scituate.

KAYANA SZYMCZAK FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

Donald and Aurora Donahue, both 68 of Scituate.

In April 2010, Johnson & Johnson recalled Children’s Tylenol along with more than 40 other nonprescription products after the FDA found contamination problems at a company plant.

Tylenol was also the subject of the perhaps the most notorious incidence of tampering in the pharmaceutical industry, when in 1982 seven people died after taking capsules that had been laced with cyanide.

“Even though something like this is regulated, you still have to be cautious,” said Fortier.

Aurora Donahue, 68, of Scituate, said she makes a point of talking to a pharmacist before giving any medication to her two grandchildren because she doesn’t trust labels.

“We always check with the pharmacy, and unless it’s completely necessary, we don’t give it to them,” Donahue said. “It’s scary — they’re little people with little brains, and you’ve just got to be careful.”

Alyssa Edes can be reached at alyssa.edes@globe.com. Follow her on twitter @alyssaedes.
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