Drug Distributor Reckitt to Pay $700 Million Over Opioid Marketing

By Erik Larson | October 24, 2019

Drug distributor Reckitt Benckiser Group agreed to a $700 million settlement with six U.S. states over claims that the company improperly marketed and promoted the opioid-addiction treatment Suboxone.

The marketing resulted in state Medicaid funds being improperly spent on the drug as governments sought to combat the deadly opioid epidemic, New York Attorney General Letitia James said Wednesday. The deal is part of a $1.4 billion accord announced in July by the U.S. Justice Department resolving civil and criminal claims, for which Reckitt Benckiser denied wrongdoing.

Suboxone is used to avoid or reduce withdrawal symptoms while users undergo addiction treatment. The drug and its active ingredient, buprenorphine, are powerful and addictive opioids, James said in a statement.

“Reckitt misled the public about the real impacts of Suboxone and encouraged physicians to wrongly prescribe it, while cheating New York out of tens of millions of dollars in the process,” James said in the statement. “No company is above the law and we will continue to take on anyone who takes advantage of the opioid crisis to increase their bottom line.”

The deal is separate from a larger settlement effort under way by cities, states and other plaintiffs seeking to resolve more than 2,600 lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors that led to the September bankruptcy filing by OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma LP.

Reckitt had no immediate comment.

The civil settlement resolves claims that from 2010 to 2014 Reckitt directly or through its subsidiaries intentionally promoted Suboxone to physicians who were writing prescriptions to patients without any counseling or psychosocial support, and for uses that were medically unsafe, according to the statement. More than $400 million in recoveries will go to state Medicaid programs, James said.

The company was also accused of promoting an under-the-tongue film version of the drug based on the false claim that it was less subject to abuse, according to the statement.

The other states involved in the deal are California, Indiana, Ohio, Virginia and Washington.

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