Congress has called a hearing to examine the impact of product hopping; a loophole drug companies use to block competition and keep prices high.
Samantha is a West Virginian who relies on a drug called Suboxone to stay in recovery from opioid use disorder. But it costs $800 for a 90-day supply.
The manufacturer of Suboxone executed a product hop in the middle of the country’s opioid crisis to maintain its monopoly on Suboxone.
“It’s ridiculous,” Samantha wrote to Patients For Affordable Drugs. “It’s easier for people to misuse narcotics –– the cost is less.”
How does product hopping keep prices high, and how are patients hurt?
When a drug’s patent is about to expire and face less-expensive generic competition, drug companies will make small changes and apply for a new patent.
But these changes are often not clinically significant. It’s often as simple as changing a drug from a tablet to a capsule. Under current law, even the most minor changes can qualify a product for renewed patent protection.
The new product often brings no new clinical benefit to patients, but nonetheless, the brand drug maker will go to work getting doctors to prescribe the new drug, flooding offices with samples and marketing materials. Sometimes companies even force patients to switch by removing the older product from the market.
In one of the most egregious examples of this tactic, the company Reckitt Benckiser (RB) swapped out its Suboxone tablet, used to treat opioid addiction, for a film that dissolves under the tongue –– right before the company was set to lose its monopoly on the tablet. RB then raised the price on the tablet and flooded doctors’ offices with the film. Citing safety claims later found to be fraudulent, RB discontinued its older version, forcing all Suboxone patients onto its new patent-protected version. Reckitt Benckiser undertook this scheme while tens of thousands of Americans were dying annually from misuse and overdoses of opioids.
Reckitt Benckiser’s scheme affects people like Janice, from California, who would do anything to help her son battle his opioid use disorder. Her son needed Suboxone, the recommended treatment, but the $60 weekly cost put a strain on her family budget. To pay for this needed medication, Janice was forced to take out a loan and deplete her savings.
“This medicine has been extremely helpful for him,” she says. “Addiction is a deadly disease and I’m glad there is a medication that helps to combat it, but it shouldn’t be this costly.”
Luckily, patient stories are being heard at today’s hearing. Patients For Affordable Drugs’ founder, David Mitchell, will share the perspective of Janice and millions of patients like her who are being ripped off by drug companies’ abusive behavior.
Read David’s full testimony here.