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Suboxone manufacturer misled patients and doctors, $2.6M settlement says

Max Johnston
Interlochen Public Radio

Michigan will get $2.6 million from drug manufacturer Reckitt Benckiser Group, according to the Michigan Attorney General's office.

Michigan filed suit with 32 other states claiming that the company misled doctors, patients and the public while marketing the drug. 

Suboxone is a drug that curbs opioid cravings and withdrawal sypmtoms. It is a form of medication-assisted treatment (MAT), which the U.S. Surgeon General called "the gold standard for treating opioid addiction” in 2018.

MAT involves behavioral health treatment used with prescribed medication, but the settlement says Rickitt knowingly marketed Suboxone as if other wraparound care wasn't necessary. It also says the company downplayed the drugs risks and potential for abuse.

"[Reckitt Benckiser Group] promoted ... uses that were unsafe, innefective and medically unnecessary and that were often diverted for uses that lacked a legitimate medical purpose," the Attorney General's Office said in a press release.

Kelly Rossman-McKinney with the Attorney General's office says Suboxone is an effective tool to curb opioid addiction, but the manufacturer made it seem like the end-all-be-all for patients.

"Anyone who knows anything about drug withdrawal and addiction treatment knows that that is not something that you can just take a pill for, but in fact you need a lot of additional support," she said.

Behavioral Health Manager at Munson Medical Center Sue Kramer worries that Reckitt's practices could damage MAT's reputation in the addiction treatment community.

"I think given the fact that the opioid pharmaceutical companies are going bankrupt with lawsuits … that looks pretty horrible for pharmaceutical companies to have hurtful practices that are just about the bottom line,” Kramer said. 

The Attorney General's office says the state will use the money from the settlement to reimburse the state's Medicaid program.

Reckitt Benckiser Group could not be reached for comment.

Max came to IPR in 2017 as an environmental intern. In 2018, he returned to the station as a reporter and quickly took on leadership roles as Interim News Director and eventually Assignment Editor. Before joining IPR, Max worked as a news director and reporter at Michigan State University's student radio station WDBM. In 2018, he reported on a Title IX dispute with MSU in his story "Prompt, Thorough and Impartial." His work has also been heard on Michigan Radio, WDBM and WKAR in East Lansing and NPR.