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Suboxone maker settles criminal, civil charges for $1.4 billion

July 11th, 2019 | No Comments

On July 11, the Department of Justice announced that Reckitt Benckiser Group, maker of Suboxone, has agreed to pay a combined $1.4 billion to resolve both criminal charges and civil allegations (originally brought in six separate qui tam whistleblower suits) that the company engaged in unlawful promotion of the drug, used to treat opioid addiction. According to DOJ’s press release:

Global consumer goods conglomerate Reckitt Benckiser Group plc (RB Group) has agreed to pay $1.4 billion to resolve its potential criminal and civil liability related to a federal investigation of the marketing of the opioid addiction treatment drug Suboxone. The resolution – the largest recovery by the United States in a case concerning an opioid drug – includes the forfeiture of proceeds totaling $647 million, civil settlements with the federal government and the states totaling $700 million, and an administrative resolution with the Federal Trade Commission for $50 million.

Suboxone is a drug product approved for use by recovering opioid addicts to avoid or reduce withdrawal symptoms while they undergo treatment. Suboxone and its active ingredient, buprenorphine, are powerful and addictive opioids.

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Resolution of the Criminal Investigation

Until December 2014, RB Group’s wholly owned subsidiary, Indivior Inc. (then known as Reckitt Benckiser Pharmaceuticals Inc.) marketed and sold Suboxone throughout the United States. In December 2014, RB Group spun off Indivior Inc., and the two companies are no longer affiliated. On April 9, a federal grand jury sitting in Abingdon, Virginia, indicted Indivior for allegedly engaging in an illicit nationwide scheme to increase prescriptions of Suboxone. The United States’ criminal trial against Indivior is scheduled to begin on May 11, 2020, in the United States District Court in Abingdon, Virginia. Indivior is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

To resolve its potential criminal liability stemming from the conduct alleged in the indictment of Indivior, RB Group has executed a non-prosecution agreement that requires the company to forfeit $647 million of proceeds it received from Indivior and not to manufacture, market, or sell Schedule I, II, or III controlled substances in the United States for three years. In addition, RB Group has agreed to cooperate fully with all investigations and prosecutions by the Department of Justice related, in any way, to Suboxone.

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According to the indictment, Indivior—including during the time when it was a subsidiary of RB Group—promoted the film version of Suboxone (Suboxone Film) to physicians, pharmacists, Medicaid administrators, and others across the country as less-divertible and less-abusable and safer around children, families, and communities than other buprenorphine drugs, even though such claims have never been established.

The indictment further alleges that Indivior touted its “Here to Help” internet and telephone program as a resource for opioid-addicted patients. Instead, however, Indivior used the program, in part, to connect patients to doctors it knew were prescribing Suboxone and other opioids to more patients than allowed by federal law, at high doses, and in a careless and clinically unwarranted manner.

The indictment also alleges that, to further its scheme, Indivior announced a “discontinuance” of its tablet form of Suboxone based on supposed “concerns regarding pediatric exposure” to tablets, despite Indivior executives’ knowledge that the primary reason for the discontinuance was to delay the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of generic tablet forms of the drug.

The indictment alleges Indivior’s scheme was highly successful, fraudulently converting thousands of opioid-addicted patients over to Suboxone Film and causing state Medicaid programs to expand and maintain coverage of Suboxone Film at substantial cost to the government.

The Civil Settlement

Under the civil settlement, RB Group has agreed to pay a total of $700 million to resolve claims that the marketing of Suboxone caused false claims to be submitted to government health care programs. The $700 million settlement amount includes $500 million to the federal government and up to $200 million to states that opt to participate in the agreement. The claims settled by the civil agreement are allegations only and there has been no determination of liability.

The civil settlement addresses allegations by the United States that, from 2010 through 2014, RB Group directly or through its subsidiaries knowingly: (a) promoted the sale and use of Suboxone to physicians who were writing prescriptions without any counseling or psychosocial support and for uses that were unsafe, ineffective, and medically unnecessary and that were often diverted for uses that lacked a legitimate medical purpose; (b) promoted the sale or use of Suboxone Film to physicians and state Medicaid agencies using false and misleading claims that Suboxone Film was less susceptible to diversion and abuse than other buprenorphine products and that Suboxone Film was less susceptible to accidental pediatric exposure than tablets; and (c) submitted a petition to the Food and Drug Administration on Sept. 25, 2012, claiming that Suboxone Tablet had been discontinued “due to safety concerns” about the tablet formulation of the drug and took other steps to delay the entry of generic competition for Suboxone in order to improperly control pricing of Suboxone, including pricing to federal healthcare programs.

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The civil settlement resolves the claims against RB Group in six lawsuits pending in federal court in the Western District of Virginia and the District of New Jersey under the qui tam, or whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act, which allow private citizens to bring civil actions on behalf of the United States and share in any recovery.

FTC Resolution

Under a separate agreement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), RB Group has agreed to pay $50 million to resolve claims that it engaged in unfair methods of competition in violation of the Federal Trade Commission Act, 15 U.S.C. § 53(b). The FTC is filing a complaint in the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia alleging anticompetitive activities by RB Group designed to impede competition from generic equivalents of Suboxone. RB Group no longer manufactures or markets drug products. As part of a consent decree, RB Group agreed that it would notify the FTC if it began marketing drug products in the United States. RB Group further agreed that if it filed a Citizen Petition with the FDA in connection with a drug product, it would simultaneously disclose to both the FDA and the FTC all studies and data relevant to that Citizen Petition. RB Group further agreed not to withdraw a drug from the market or otherwise disadvantage a drug after obtaining approval to market another drug containing the same active ingredient.

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The Government has not yet announced the relators’ share of the settlement.

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