The Slatest

British Pharma Firm Charged for Falsely Claiming Its Opioid-Addiction Drugs Were a Safer Option

A heroin user near what appears to be a baseball field holds out a package for Suboxone.
A heroin user holds Suboxone on Aug. 8, 2017, in New York City.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Federal prosecutors on Tuesday charged the British pharmaceutical company Indivior with fraud, making a case that the company had swindled Medicare, Medicaid, and other health care providers by falsely marketing its opioids to medical professionals as less prone to abuse than generic alternatives, according to an indictment.

Prosecutors also accused Indivior of using a hotline for helping patients struggling with opioid addiction to instead connect them with doctors who were prescribing Suboxone, a drug it produced, and other opioids “to more patients than allowed by federal law, at high doses, and in suspect circumstances,” according to the indictment.

Its product Suboxone Film, a dissolvable film placed on the tongue, was marketed as a safer and “less abusable” way to ingest the drug Suboxone, which is meant to help with addiction. An investigation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and others concluded that Suboxone Film was no safer than the generic tablet version of the drug. That led prosecutors in the Western District of Virginia to file criminal charges claiming that, starting in 2007, the company knew the film version of the drug was potentially more dangerous and more prone to abuse than the generic version about to hit the market but went ahead with its marketing scheme regardless.

“[R]ather than marketing its opioid-addiction drug responsibly, Indivior promoted it with a disregard for the truth about its safety and despite known risks of diversion and abuse,” Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt said in a statement.

Indivior has maintained its innocence and claimed the government misunderstood the science around the drug. “Key allegations made by the Justice Department are contradicted by the government’s own scientific agencies, they are almost exclusively based on years-old events from before Indivior became an independent company in 2014, and they are wrong,” the company said in a statement. “The department has apparently decided it would rather pursue self-serving headlines on a matter of national significance than achieve an appropriate resolution, but we will contest this case vigorously and we look forward to the full facts coming out in court.”

Prosecutors are seeking at least $3 billion in penalties if Indivior is found guilty.