Antitrust officials in Europe have accused two of the world’s largest drug companies—Novartis and Johnson & Johnson—of colluding in a payment scheme designed to delay a less-expensive version of the fentanyl pain patch. Fentanyl is an extremely powerful opioid painkiller that is usually prescribed to cancer patients or other individuals with chronic pain.
According to the antitrust chief for the European Union, Johnson & Johnson made payments to Sandoz, a division of Novartis, in order to delay the release in The Netherlands of a generic fentanyl patch manufactured by Sandoz. This delay may have cost patients and government health agencies significant amounts of money because they had to pay more for the fentanyl patch.
These so-called “pay to delay” tactics are becoming increasingly common among drug companies that are facing increased competition from lower cost generic drug manufacturers. The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear a case in March that will examine the issue of payments that are made to generic drugmakers in order to delay the release of cheaper competitors.
The manufacturers of several generic and brand name versions of the fentanyl patch are facing lawsuits filed by former patients or their families who claim that the patch caused them to suffer a fentanyl overdose. Fentanyl lawsuits have also been filed against doctors or other health care providers who improperly prescribed the patch to patients who were not eligible to take the medication.