A maker of a common treatment for opioid addiction — Suboxone — has agreed to settle antitrust complaints by 41 state attorneys general for $102.5 million, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost announced on June 2. Ohio will get just under $6 million.
The states claimed that Suboxone manufacturer Indivior made minor changes to its product to keep it under patent so it wouldn’t have to compete with lower-cost generics. Some critics said that the changes made it easier to abuse the drug.
More than most states, Ohio has been ravaged by overdoses due to opioids and other drugs.
In 2021, it had an age-adjusted overdose death rate of 48.1 per 100,000 people, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Exceeding that were New Mexico (51.6), Kentucky (55.6), Louisiana (55.9) and Tennessee (56.6).
As it has been throughout the epidemic, West Virginia in 2021 was its epicenter, with a death rate of 90.9 per 100,000 people.
Suboxone contains the opioid buprenorphine, which is intended to dampen cravings for stronger opioids.
It had been manufactured in pill form. But in 2007, two years before its patent was to expire, its maker filed an application with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to deliver the medication in a new way — on a PharmFilm strip to be placed beneath the tongue.
Indivior claimed that made it a superior product. But the 2016 complaint filed by then-Attorney General Mike DeWine and 40 colleagues said it was a transparent attempt to keep prices high by avoiding generic competition. In the language of antitrust litigation, such practices are known as “product hopping.”
The result was even worse than that, critics said.
The strips could be cut into smaller doses and were easier to smuggle in things like Bibles into places like jails and prisons, where they were used to get high — not to cope with addiction, critics said.
“We have heard concerns from multiple agencies about that,” DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney said in 2017.
Indivior’s conduct ran afoul of federal and state laws against end-runs around the free market.
“The suit cites violations of the (U.S. Sherman Antitrust Act) and Ohio’s Valentine Act, saying that Indivior engaged in anti-competitive activities designed to impede competition from generic equivalents of Suboxone,” Friday’s statement by Yost’s office said.
To keep attorneys general abreast of Indivior’s practices, as part of the settlement, the company must provide them and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration any petition it files to change federal regulations, any product modifications it plans to make and of any change in corporate control.
The suit was led by Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul. Joining it were attorneys general in Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia.
This story was originally published by the Ohio Capital Journal and republished here with permission.
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