CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia’s Attorney General has joined a coalition of 42 attorneys general in an antitrust lawsuit against the makers of Suboxone, citing a scheme to block generic competitors.
Suboxone is a brand-name prescription drug meant to be used to treat heroin and opioid abuse by easing addiction cravings.
An earlier version of the lawsuit was filed in September with 35 states signing on at that point.
An amended complaint, filed Wednesday, alleges MonoSol Rx and Reckitt Benckiser Pharmaceuticals, now known as Indivior, violated state and federal antitrust laws, causing purchasers to pay artificially high prices.
It specifically contends Reckitt conspired with MonoSol Rx to switch Suboxone from a tablet version to a film, which dissolves in the mouth, to prevent or delay generic alternatives and maintain monopoly profits.
“Opioid addiction’s toll is steep enough without anti-competitive behavior that artificially increases the cost of potential solutions,” West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said.
“Government officials must consider every tool in fighting this battle. This lawsuit looks to provide relief to consumers and decrease the financial price of treatment.”
Reckitt, which introduced tablet Suboxone in 2002, had exclusivity protection for seven years, during which generic versions could not enter the market.
But prior to its expiration, the lawsuit contends, Reckitt worked with MonoSol to create the dissolvable film version, similar in size to a breath strip, and allegedly converted the market away from the tablet through marketing, price adjustments and other methods.
Once the majority of Suboxone prescriptions were written for the film, the lawsuit alleges Reckitt removed the tablet from the U.S. market.
The lawsuit also contends the Suboxone film provided no real added benefit and Reckitt continued to sell the tablets in other countries.
“We believe that the allegations in the complaint are wholly without merit and the suit is both factually and legally deficient,” MonoSol Rx CEO Keith Kendall said in a statement when the first version of the lawsuit was filed.
“I think it is important to add that Suboxone sublingual film is a product which has saved countless lives since its approval by the FDA in 2010.”
The attorneys general allege consumers and purchasers have paid artificially high monopoly prices since late 2009, a timespan for which annual sales of Suboxone topped $1 billion.
The lawsuit asks the court to restore competition, stop the companies from engaging in anticompetitive conduct and order appropriate relief for consumers and the states.
“My office will not permit drug companies to engage in anticompetitive conduct that unlawfully extends their monopolies — and their monopoly profits — on drugs,” New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said in a statement when the first version of the lawsuit was filed.
West Virginia joined the Wisconsin-led coalition along with Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, 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, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.
The amended complaint was filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern Division of Pennsylvania.