Six whistleblowers won a major victory Thursday when the global consumer goods conglomerate Reckitt Benckiser Group announced a record $1.4 billion civil settlement with the federal government over sales and marketing of the opioid Suboxone, reports Corporate Counsel. The U.S. Justice Department said the RB Group also entered a nonprosecution agreement to resolve potential criminal charges. Federal prosecutors said that until 2014, the RB Group owned a pharmaceutical subsidiary now known as Indivior Inc. that sold Suboxone throughout the U.S. The whistleblowers filed their suits in 2013.
Indivior was indicted in April for engaging in an illicit nationwide scheme to increase prescriptions of Suboxone through falsely marketing it as safer than similar drugs, and by engaging in anti-competitive behavior to delay a generic version. The drug is used by recovering opioid addicts to avoid or reduce withdrawal symptoms while they undergo treatment. The indictment alleged that Indivior touted its “Here to Help” internet and telephone program as a resource for opioid-addicted patients. Instead, Indivior used the program to connect patients to doctors it knew were prescribing Suboxone and other opioids to more patients than allowed by federal law. Indivior’s criminal trial is scheduled to begin May 11, 2020, in U.S. district court in Abingdon, Va. Scott Simmer, an attorney for one whistleblower, said the settlement “represents a small step in the right direction towards holding opioid manufacturers responsible for their role in creating a public health crisis that continues to plague our country.” There have been larger settlements with non-opioid drug makers, but DOJ said the RB Group settlement was the largest ever with an opioid company.