Opioid Treatment Maker Accused of Illegally Blocking Generics

(Bloomberg) -- The U.K. pharmaceutical company behind one of the best-selling treatments for opioid addiction -- a growing epidemic across the U.S. -- was sued by 36 states that claim it ripped off consumers by blocking a cheaper generic version of the drug.

Indivior Plc, whose Suboxone medication is used to treat addiction to heroin and prescription painkillers, was sued on Thursday in federal court in Philadelphia, according to Pennsylvania Attorney General Bruce Beemer.

The company sought to deny consumers the choice of a generic version or Suboxone, Beemer said. "This conduct forced consumers to pay more for Suboxone and severely limited their options for treating their opioid addictions,” he said.

Overdose deaths from prescription opioids have soared in the U.S., with more than 14,000 people dying from overdoses in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Almost 2 million Americans abused or were addicted to opioids, the agency said.

U.S. sales of Suboxone tablets were approved in 2002, though they lacked patent protection at the time. To help Slough, England-based Indivior recoup its research and development costs on a product that the government deemed useful, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted the company a seven-year “orphan drug” monopoly.

Anticompetitive Conduct

But, from 2008 to 2013, Indivior sought to keep its monopoly alive by engaging "in a range of anticompetitive conduct" to keep generic versions off the market, the attorney general said. By 2011, U.S. sales of the tablet had generated more than $1 billion in sales, according to the statement. 

MonoSol Rx Inc. was also sued for allegedly helping Indivior by licensing its patented sublingual film technology to the company. The film allowed Indivior to switch Suboxone from a pill to a film form to trick regulators into thinking the drug had changed sufficiently that any generic version of the pill would be invalid, according to the lawsuit.

Indivior in June surged the most in more than a year after it won a ruling in federal court in Delaware that will keep generic versions of Suboxone off the U.S. market until 2024.