Colorado AG sues drug companies for “preying on patients in need of help” with opioid addiction

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Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman has joined 35 other attorneys general in filing a lawsuit against the makers of Suboxone, a prescription drug used to treat opioid addiction.

"Colorado is experiencing a public health crisis involving opioid addictions and overdoses, and we cannot stand by and allow pharmaceutical companies to manipulate the market for a drug that breaks the addiction cycle," Coffman said in a press release. "These companies are shamelessly preying on patients in need of help."

The lawsuit is over allegations that the companies Reckitt Benckiser Pharmaceuticals and Monosol Rx engaged in a scheme to block generic competitors and cause people to pay artificially high prices.

“Joining with other state’s attorneys general is a significant power that we have in court because we can say it’s not just one or two of us - there are 36 of us that see it as an egregious profit-motivated exercise,” Coffman said. “It’s not patient-motivated. This is profit-motivated and we want to stop it.”

Suboxone treats heroin addiction and other opioid addictions by easing cravings, and Coffman says it’s the most effective in this category of drugs.

“It is probably right now the most effective drug on the market with its characteristics to help someone get off of opioids,” Coffman said. “That is going to be critically important to a lot of people who are addicted in Colorado and around the country, and this may be the only drug they can use to wean themselves off the opioids.”

Reckitt Benckiser introduced Suboxone in 2002 in tablet form, with seven years of exclusive production and sales. Before that time period ended, Reckitt worked with Monosol to create a new version of Suboxone – a dissolvable film similar to a breath strip.

The attorneys general claim this was illegal “product hopping,” where a company makes slight changes to its product to extend patent protections so other companies can’t enter the market and offer cheaper generic alternatives.

As a result, the attorneys general allege that consumers have paid artificially high prices since 2009, when generic alternatives should have become available.

“They were able to sustain their anti-competition, monopoly on a drug that was expensive and in demand,” Coffman said. “By doing that they kept the price artificially high and kept people who really needed the drug from getting it.”

The lawsuit was filed in Pennsylvania and accused the companies of violating the federal Sherman Act and state laws.