The United States has faced what’s known as the opioid crisis since roughly 2010. It was in 2010 when the manufacturer of OxyContin, one of the nation’s most popular opioid painkillers, switched their formulation of OxyContin to make the drug less abusable.
Although the company did succeed in making their drug much harder to abuse, tons of people who otherwise would have used OxyContin, as they had been using it, switched to illicit street heroin. The switch to heroin, which is an incredibly similar drug to oxycodone, the active ingredient in OxyContin, resulted in a spike of overdoses as a result of heroin not being standardized, regulated, or manufactured pharmaceutically in the manner that OxyContin and other opioid painkillers are manufactured.
Long before the opioid crisis reared its ugly head in the United States, the United States Food and Drug Administration had approved a drug known as buprenorphine for both killing pain and to be taken as an alternative to other opioids that people who had existing opioid use disorders were addicted to or dependent on. In 2007, a pharmaceutical company known as Indivior came out with a new formulation of buprenorphine, specifically buprenorphine and naloxone in a four-to-one ratio, known as Suboxone.
Indivior, a company based in England, had alleged to government agencies, pharmacists, physicians, and other relevant entities in the United States that Suboxone was less easy to abuse than its predecessors because the active ingredient would be delivered through a strip designed to be administered sublingually, or under the tongue. This strip was supposed to be more difficult to abuse than its tablet counterparts. However, this turned out to be false.
Indivior was able to command a higher price for Suboxone than what other pharmaceutical companies were able to pull from other forms of buprenorphine, effectively earning a boatload of money from insurance companies, Medicaid, and Medicare. They were willing to fork over more money for the drug, Suboxone, because they thought it was safer, as the company had alleged.
It turns out that Suboxone – the sublingual strip form of Suboxone – was more dangerous, easier to abuse, and resulted in children having higher exposure to the drug. The United States government alleged that Indivior knew of all these risks before it began marketing the drug in the United States.
If Indivior is ultimately found guilty, it will be forced to fork over at least $3 billion.