Thirty-Six States, Including North Carolina, File Antitrust Lawsuit Against Makers of Suboxone

The lawsuit alleges that the manufacturers schemed to block generic competing products

Thirty-Six States, Including North Carolina, File Antitrust Lawsuit Against Makers of Suboxone
Image: Pixabay
September 26, 2016

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper has filed an antitrust lawsuit against the makers of prescription medication Suboxone.

A.G. Cooper alleged that buyers of the addiction treatment drug paid too much because the manufacturers schemed to keep prices high illegally.

North Carolina joins 35 other states in filing the suit against the makers of Suboxone, a prescription medication meant to treat opioid addiction, claiming that they conspired to block generic competing products and keep the price of the drug artificially high.

"Gaming the system to charge higher prices on needed medications is wrong," Cooper said. "Prescription drug abuse is a serious problem in North Carolina and those trying to recover from it suffer if artificially high costs make it harder for them to get treatment."

The attorneys general who filed the suit claim that their investigation indicates that consumers and other buyers of the drug—such as law enforcement and emergency medical services—have been paying prices for Suboxone that have been artificially high since late 2009, when generic competitors would have become available for purchase had it not been for the illegal interference. During this time, Suboxone sales topped $1 billion annually.

Reckitt Benckiser Pharmaceuticals—now known as Indivior—is being accused of scheming with MonoSol Rx to switch Suboxone from a tablet to a dissolves-in-the-mouth film with the intent of stopping or at least delaying generic competing products and maintain profits as a monopoly. This behavior, claims the attorneys general, is in violation of both state and federal antitrust laws.

The lawsuit explains that, upon Reckitt's 2002 introduction of Suboxone as a tablet, it was then protected from having to compete with any generic alternative for a period of seven years. Before that time period was up, the company collaborated with MonoSol to make a new version of the drug in the form of a dissolvable film, close to a breath strip in size. Over time, it is alleged that Reckitt used marketing, adjustments in price, and other methods to convince healthcare providers to prescribe the film version instead of the tablet. The company then removed the tablet version off the U.S. market once providers began prescribing more film than tablets.

According to the attorneys general, this conduct constituted an illegal attempt to extend the drug's patent protections as well as to prevent other manufacturers from offering generic competitor products that would be more affordable. The suit claims that the film version of the medication does not provide any actual benefit not provided by the tablet version and that the company kept selling the tablet in other countries even after they had been removed from the market in the U.S. The company also is alleged to have expressed unfounded safety concerns regarding the tablet and to have delayed FDA approval of generics on purpose.