New Mexico and 41 other states are suing the manufacturer of a drug used to treat addiction to heroin and prescription painkillers that cost the state’s Medicaid program $9.3 million in 2015.
The lawsuit alleges that the pharmaceutical company Indivior Inc. artificially inflated the price of Suboxone by illegally blocking competitors from introducing cheaper generic drugs.
New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas said Indivior conspired with MonoSol Rx to switch Suboxone from a tablet version to a dissolvable film to prevent or delay other companies from entering the market. Both companies have denied the allegations.
The cost of Suboxone to New Mexico’s Medicaid program has increased in recent years, according to data provided by the New Mexico Department of Human Services.
The four insurers under contract to manage the state’s Medicaid program paid nearly $7.5 million to treat about 24,000 patients with Suboxone through Sept. 30 this year, or a cost of about $311 per patient, HSD said. In 2014, Medicaid paid $6.1 million to treat some 22,700 patients, at a cost of about $270 per patient.
In 2015, Medicaid paid $9.3 million to treat about 33,000 New Mexicans with Suboxone, at a cost of about $283 per patient, according to HSD.
A University of New Mexico physician who provides addiction treatment said Tuesday that the high retail cost of Suboxone can be a barrier for addicts who must pay out-of-pocket for treatment. The retail cost for Suboxone ranges upward from about $450 for a supply of 60 films, or about $7.50 a dose.
“Certainly it is a huge barrier for people who are undocumented or who have low incomes, but not low enough to qualify for Medicaid,” said Dr. Miriam Komaromy, who specializes in addiction treatment.
According to the lawsuit filed in Pennsylvania federal court in September, Indivior’s predecessor company, Reckitt Benckiser Pharmaceuticals Inc., had exclusive patent protection for seven years when it introduced Suboxone in 2002. But before the period ended, Reckitt worked with drug delivery developer MonoSol Rx to create a dissolvable film that came to dominate the market through marketing and discounts, the suit alleges.
Balderas said in a written statement that the firms violated state and federal antitrust laws by modifying the product for the purpose of extending patent protections – a practice called “product hopping.”
Suboxone contains an opioid painkiller, buprenorphine, that prevents an addict from experiencing withdrawal symptoms. It also contains an opiate blocker, naloxone, that puts the patient in complete withdrawal if the drug is crushed and injected.
Indivior responded in a written statement that “we disagree with a number of the claims made by the attorneys general, and we will contest this lawsuit vigorously.” Monosol Rx has said the allegations “are wholly without merit and the suit is both factually and legally deficient.”