A.G. Swanson sues for greater access to 'life-saving' drug

On Thursday Minnesota attorney general Lori Swanson sued two major drug companies in an effort to increase access to a drug that can help overcome opioid addiction.

Dependence on opioids is now the leading cause of drug-related deaths in Minnesota.

“Anything that gets in the way of access to this life saving drug is something we want to see eliminated,” said Swanson.

Many struggling with opioid addiction were unable to get the drug, Suboxone, because of its high cost, and the manufacturers Indivior PLC and MonoSol RX, were preventing a generic form from entering the market, according to the lawsuit filed by Swanson and 35 other attorneys general.

“People can't have access to it if it's too expensive,” Swanson said. “In this country we have 78 people a day who lose their life due to drug overdoses especially related to opioids.”

Swanson and the other state attorneys allege the companies practiced what's called "product hopping" -- a drug tweeking scheme that unlawfully extends its patent protection.

“They had a seven year exclusive period where only they can sell the drug under federal law and when that seven year period was coming to an end they said, oh now we're going to go from a tablet form to a film form that dissolves in the mouth, thereby putting a lock on the market.

Suboxone can cost patients anywhere from $400-500 a month.

“We'd like to see money back for people to the extent they've been able to charge these artificially high monopolistic prices.”

Swanson also wants to free patients from another hurdle called prior authorization measures.

She wants major medical insurers to nix this delay to Suboxone access, fearing the longer someone going through withdrawal is without Suboxone, the more likely that person is to relapse.

“Even if that approval takes two days, three days, it's really a critical time for that patient.”

In Minnesota alone last year 572 people died of an opioid overdose. More than half were from prescribed drugs.

“We need to see the healthcare system come together to really pave the way so people can get access to this drug in a timely and price-efficient fashion where they can actually afford it.”

Makers of Suboxone make around $1 billion in annual sales of the drug. The attorney general says the suit will take months to work its way through the courts. She'd like to soon see an injunction put in place to stop the makers of Suboxone from blocking its generic competition any longer.