Connecticut joins antitrust lawsuit against opioid treatment drug manufacturer

This story originally appeared in the New Haven Register 

Connecticut took on a broad scope of the deadly drug epidemic Friday as Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced state police will receive a $1.5 million federal grant to try to save lives, while the state attorney general’s office said the state is joining a federal antitrust lawsuit against a company that manufactures medication used to treat opioid addiction.

Malloy said in a release Friday that state police will receive the $1.5 million competitive grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to help expand the agency’s investigative efforts to address the state’s opioid epidemic. State police have been at the forefront of helping develop local law enforcement practices at combating opioid dealing and use, providing troopers with naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal medication, since 2014. Its use by state troopers has helped resuscitate at least 100 people since 2014.

The grant announcement was made as state Attorney General George Jepsen announced the state was joining 34 other states and the District of Columbia in an antitrust lawsuit against a drug company that manufactures one of the most widely available and prescribed medications used to treat opioid addiction disorders, Suboxone.

The dual announcements help demonstrate the complexity of the state’s — and really the country’s — efforts to combat the widespread increase of opioid use and addiction that in 2014 alone left 28,000 people dead nationwide. The two announcements were made during a week President Barack Obama decreed Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week.

The number of fatal drug overdoses in Connecticut has increased annually since at least 2012. This year, the state’s chief medical examiner is projecting the highest total during this five-year period, expecting 888 people to die of drug overdoses in the state. At least 444 people already have died of overdoses from January to June of this year.

Malloy said in his release that battling the epidemic requires a multifaceted approach combining efforts from public health and public safety agencies.

“Opioid abuse is a problem that is impacting every corner of our nation, including here in our state, which is why we are increasing efforts at every possible level to fight and put a stop to this crisis,” Malloy said in the release.

Members of the state’s congressional delegation said in a join statement that opioid addiction is “ravaging communities across Connecticut.” At least one of those members, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., was in the state Friday addressing the epidemic. Murphy joined Connecticut U.S. Attorney Deirdre Daly in Milford for a screening of a film about addiction.

In the joint statement, the delegation acknowledged the money is a “drop in the bucket” for what’s needed nationwide. They also urged Republican leadership in Congress to provide additional funding.

“This major federal grant will help support smart and strategic community policing — enhancing partnerships to dismantle drug trafficking rings while also providing alternatives to incarceration for individuals in need of substance abuse and mental health treatment,” the joint statement said.

The federal lawsuit against Reckitt Benckiser Pharmaceuticals Inc., and MonoSol Rx, alleges the two companies conspired to switch Suboxone, a brand name for a medication that contains the opioid addiction medication buprenorphine, from a tablet version to a film to prevent or delay generic alternatives that would cut into their company profits. Suboxone works in a manner similar to methadone, as it helps reduce cravings and relieve symptoms of withdrawal for patients with opioid addiction.

A call placed to Indivior, formerly Reckitt Benckiser Pharmaceuticals, was not immediately returned Friday evening. A statement on the company’s website said they were made aware on Thursday that the lawsuit was filed.

“The Company intends to continue to vigorously defend its position,” the statement said.

MonoSol Rx could not be reached for comment late Friday.

The dramatic rise of medication costs has been a hot-topic issue since the skyrocketing price of EpiPens raised the ire of consumers and politicians this year. The release from Jepsen’s office said the plaintiff states in the suit believe the company’s actions violate state and federal laws.

“In this case, we have a brand-name pharmaceutical manufacturer that sought to protect its profits by preventing lower-priced generic alternatives from entering the prescription drug market,” Jepsen said in the release about the Suboxone lawsuit. “The circumstances alleged in this case are particularly egregious in that, in the midst of an epidemic of opioid abuse and addiction, Connecticut consumers and taxpayers have had to pay more for a drug that may help to mitigate some of the problem.”

In terms of addressing the opioid problem, the grant awarded to state police doesn’t only address the department’s need to stop drug trafficking.

According to a release, the grant will help state police enhance community policing and address opioid use disorders faced by some individuals. Part of this plan will include partnering with local judicial agencies to find alternatives to incarcerating people in need of substance use treatment. This means state police will be developing best practices for use by individuals with mental health and substance use disorders.

“In addition to interrupting traffickers, our troopers are leading the way in focused Community Policing, as well as bringing back individuals on the brink of overdose a second chance at recovery. This funding will enhance all of these crucial efforts,” state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection Commissioner Dora B. Schriro said in the release.

The federal grant also will help state police improve the agency’s ability to dismantle drug trafficking organizations by beefing up the Statewide Narcotics Task Force. This initiative will be accomplished by strengthening the department’s existing partnership with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.

The grant awarded to state police is made through the DOJs 2016 Community Oriented Policing Services Anti-Heroin Task Force Program.

Reach Esteban L. Hernandez at 203-680-9901.

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