Last week, Suboxone manufacturer and British company Reckitt Benckiser agreed to pay $1.4 billion to resolve a long-running U.S. government investigation concerning fraud sales and marketing of opioid treatment drug, Suboxone – which is the biggest drug industry settlement to date.
The company’s former division – Indivior – spun off in 2014, makes an opioid-addiction drug called Suboxone Film that dissolves under the tongue. In April, the Justice Department charged Indivior with felony fraud and conspiracy. Federal prosecutors said that starting in 2010, Indivior falsely marketed its film as being safer and less prone to abuse than cheaper tablet forms.
A Nationwide Scheme
According to the indictment, Indivior promoted a film version of Suboxone to physicians, pharmacists, Medicaid administrators, and others across the country as less-divertible, less-abusable, and safer around children, families, and communities than other buprenorphine drugs, even though such claims have never been established. The production illegally earned billions of dollars in a “nationwide scheme” to bilk healthcare providers and insurers including Medicaid.
The indictment also claims Indivior used an internet and telephone program to connect opioid-addicted patients to doctors it knew were prescribing Suboxone to more patients that allowed by federal law. The company additionally manipulated the Food and Drug Administration approval process on a tablet form of Suboxone to further promote the film version of the drug.
The company stated it acted lawfully at all times, however agreed to settle and avoid further costs. The $1.4 billion fine is the highest single penalty imposed on a company involved in the US opioid crisis.
“While RB has acted lawfully at all times and expressly denies all allegations that it engaged in any wrongful conduct, after careful consideration, the board of RB determined that the agreement is in the best interests of the company and its shareholders,” the company stated in response to the settlement.
“This is a non-criminal resolution,” the company added. “There is no admission of any violation of law or any wrongdoing by RB or any RB Group employee.”
Most of the $1.4 billion will go to various federal agencies, but $200 million will be divided up among states that sign on to the settlement deal, with the money going to reimburse their Medicaid budgets.
Cashing In On The Crisis
“Today’s announcement demonstrates that this office will work tirelessly to address all facets of the opioid epidemic,” said assistant US attorney Daniel P. Bubar of Virginia.
Reckitt Benckiser is still facing lawsuits from dozens of state attorneys general. Some officials may choose to take part in this federal settlement, but others may keep fighting in court, pushing for separate opioid settlements.
As the raging opioid epidemic continues on, this isn’t the first company to face federal charges and pay large settlements in the nations drug crisis, and it’s not going to be the last one we hear of cashing in on the nation’s crisis. Other pharmaceutical companies including Insys Therapeutics, Purdue Pharma and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries have agreed to pay state and federal agencies a combined total of more than half a billion dollars to settle opioid-related claims.