Centene sues drugmaker Indivior over ‘profit protection scheme’

UPDATE: Sept. 23, 2020: This story was updated to reflect Indivior’s response. The company declined to comment.

Dive Brief:

  • Centene is suing drugmaker Indivior, formerly known as Reckitt Benckiser Pharmaceuticals, for impeding less expensive generic versions of its Suboxone tablet from coming to market, according to a lawsuit filed Monday in federal court.  
  • The drugmaker’s “profit protection scheme” led Centene and its health plans across the country to pay higher prices for the opioid addiction treatment when less expensive options should have been available, Centene alleges in the complaint. 
  • Centene claims the scheme to delay generics almost destroyed the prescription base for tablets. It’s seeking to recover the money it paid for the drug, plus damages and attorneys’ fees. Indivior declined to comment. 

Dive Insight:

The opioid epidemic has wreaked havoc on people and families across the country, claiming the lives of about 450,000 over a span of two decades, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It has also forced the U.S. healthcare system to examine its role in the epidemic, particularly through prescribing habits.    

Centene’s lawsuit is not the first legal action this drugmaker has had to face related to this drug. In fact, the U.S. Department of Justice has secured a blockbuster settlement in the case and guilty pleas from multiple executives, including Indivior’s former CEO.    

Suboxone was a profitable drug for the company and, as it neared losing exclusivity, the company allegedly developed a scheme to sustain profits. 

The company developed a new Suboxone product — a thin film that is placed under the tongue. It touted the film as harder to abuse and safer around children, though Centene alleges that is not true. The company was successful in converting thousands to the film product and convincing state Medicaid programs to expand coverage to the film at a substantial cost to the states, according to DOJ.

In 2012, the company submitted a petition to the FDA that said it discontinued the tablet “due to safety concerns.” DOJ alleged it was just an attempt to maintain exclusivity and prevent generic versions from entering the tablet market as it switched patients to the film.

In July 2019, DOJ reported it secured a $1.4 billion settlement, the largest recovery in a case involving an opioid drug. 

The Trump administration has long touted its desire to control drug prices. Most recently, the president released an executive order that would limit Medicare drug prices to the lowest amount paid for medicines in developed countries. The administration has also tried to require drugmakers to disclose prices in TV ads, a move that was struck down in court.

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