Virginia Attorney General joins lawsuit to make opioid treatment drug more available

In this Jan. 23, 2014 file photo, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring speaks at a news conference at his office in Richmond, Va.  (AP Photo/Richmond Times-Dispatch, Bob Brown, File)
In this Jan. 23, 2014 file photo, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring speaks at a news conference at his office in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Richmond Times-Dispatch, Bob Brown, File)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring and 35 other attorney generals throughout the country filed an antitrust lawsuit in federal court against the makers of Suboxone.

Suboxone is a prescription drug used to treat opioid addiction.

In the suit, the attorney generals claimed that the companies engaged in a “product hopping scheme,” where small changes were made to the product to block generic competitors and cause purchasers to pay artificially high prices for an important addiction treatment medicine.

Reckitt Benckiser Pharmaceuticals and Indivior are accused of conspiring with MonoSol Rx to switch Suboxone from its tablet version to a film that dissolves in the mouth, with the goal of delaying generic alternatives to maintain monopolistic profits.

The companies are accused of violating state and federal antitrust laws.

Herring said he is participating in the lawsuit because he thinks it will aid in resolving the opioid abuse epidemic.

“For many Virginians struggling with an addiction to heroin and other opioids, Suboxone can be an important part of a treatment plan that allows them to manage their substance abuse disorder,” Herring said. “After extensive investigation, my colleagues and I have reason to believe that these monopoly practices violated the law and made this important medication more expensive and more difficult to obtain.”

Suboxone is a brand-name prescription of buprenorphine and naloxone that is used to treat heroin addiction and other opioid addictions by easing addiction cravings. No generic alternative for Suboxone film currently exists.

The attorneys general allege that consumers and purchasers have paid artificially high monopoly prices since late 2009 when generic alternatives of Suboxone might otherwise have become available. During that time, annual sales of Suboxone topped $1 billion.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern Division of Pennsylvania, accuses the companies of violating the federal Sherman Act and state antitrust laws. In the suit, the attorneys general ask the court to stop the companies from engaging in anticompetitive conduct, to restore competition, and to order appropriate relief for consumers and the states, plus costs and fees.

Thirty-four additional states and the District of Columbia have joined the lawsuit including Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.

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