Federal prosecutors have hounded opioid maker Indivior for years over its marketing of Suboxone Film as a safe painkiller despite addiction risks. After snaring more than $2 billion in settlement money from Indivior’s former parent company, the feds now have a former Indivior CEO fessing up in the scheme.
Former Indivior chief Shaun Thaxter pleaded guilty Tuesday to scheming to secure Medicaid formulary coverage in Massachusetts for opioid Suboxone Film through misleading information about the drug’s dangers to children, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a release.
Thaxter’s plea came one day after he agreed to step down (PDF) at Indivior in favor of chief financial and operations officer Mark Crossley, who has worked at the company since 2017. Indivior noted (PDF) in a release that Thaxter’s plea did not affect the company as a whole and said the drugmaker was working to resolve the rest of its Suboxone litigation “as expeditiously as possible.”
As part of his plea deal, Thaxter will pay $600,000 in fines and forfeiture and will face up to one year in jail pending a sentencing hearing Sept. 29.
The ongoing saga over Suboxone’s marketing has seen Indivior’s former parent company, Reckitt Benckiser, sign deals worth more than $2 billion to resolve their long-running federal and state probes.
In October, Reckitt agreed to settle with New York’s attorney general and five other states that claim its pharma division, spun off in 2014 and rebranded as Indivior, misled doctors on the safety of Suboxone, leading to chronic overprescription of the med.
As part of the agreement, New York’s Medicaid program was slated to receive more than $71.9 million and more than $39.9 million would be returned to state coffers, Attorney General Letitia James’ office said in a release.
“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. “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.”
Back in July 2019, Reckitt signed one of the largest settlements in pharma history over its Suboxone sales, agreeing to shell out $1.4 billion to the feds to end multiple federal probes into its Suboxone scheme.
Reckitt’s settlement only covered allegations dating to the period before Indivior’s 2014 spinoff, Indivior said in a statement.
That massive payoff cleared Reckitt’s name from the government’s full-court press over Suboxone, but Indivior could still be in hot water after a criminal indictment in April 2019 sought to strip $3 billion from the spinoff’s books.
That month, federal prosecutors accused Indivior of presenting misleading claims about the benefits of Suboxone Film, a newer version of the company’s pill.
After developing the film in 2007, prosecutors said, Indivior began lying to doctors about the drug’s safety in an attempt to move patients to the film formulation and boost sales.
But misstating the film’s benefits was only one tactic in the company’s fraudulent marketing scheme, prosecutors said, which also included pulling the Suboxone pill off the market in an attempt to deter generic competitors and launching a phone and internet network to connect patients to doctors prescribing Suboxone in a “careless and clinically unwarranted manner.”