Minnesota attorney general: Drug companies jack up prices of generic drugs

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ST. PAUL—Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson is moving to sue another dozen pharmaceutical companies, alleging they are scheming together to jack up prices of generic drugs.

Swanson and 46 other attorneys general sued multiple pharmaceutical companies in 2016 over the same issue. They are now requesting that the federal court in Pennsylvania, where the lawsuit is being filed, allow them to amend last year's lawsuit to include a dozen new companies.

The generic medicines, which account for more than 80 percent of prescriptions filled nationwide, treat common ailments such as arthritis, asthma, high blood pressure, infections, glaucoma, diabetes, anxiety and seizures. Prices on many of them increased by more than 200 percent in just one year, according to the lawsuit.

"At a time when many patients can't afford their prescriptions, these companies colluded to jack up the prices even higher," Swanson said in a prepared statement Tuesday.

Many pharmaceutical companies could not immediately be reached Tuesday.

Teva Pharmaceuticals, one of the defendants in the case, denied the allegations.

"Teva denies these allegations and will continue to defend itself vigorously in court. In accordance with our values, Teva is committed to complying with all applicable competition laws and regulations. To this end, we have a robust compliance program designed to ensure that our employees are aware of competition laws, regulations and internal policies, and their obligations to abide by them," the company said Tuesday.

Pharmaceutical company officials would allegedly meet up for "dinner parties" or a "girls night out." While together, the representatives would discuss sensitive information about bids and pricing, the lawsuit said. A Minnesota-based salesperson for Heritage Pharmaceuticals was accused of being a leading player in organizing dinners and meetings among employees of competitors.

Sometimes, the companies would collude to raise prices, according to the lawsuit. Other times, companies would agree not to bid for certain accounts, allowing other companies to take full market share.

The lawsuit alleges that these agreements are part of a broad scheme to gain market share and avoid price competition.

"Manufacturers work with distributors to develop contracts that incentivize higher prices, knowing that the higher costs will ultimately be passed along to patients who have no say in the price they pay for medicines," Swanson said in a statement.

From 2010 to 2014, the cost of the 50 most popular generic medications increased more than 370 percent, according to Swanson's office.

Between 2013 and 2014, the drug that treats glaucoma and seizures increased in price 58 cents per tablet, a 275 percent hike, and a drug used to treat anxiety increased by $1.10 per tablet, a 253 percent increase. In a four-year period, the price of an arthritis medication increased from $32 to $108, a 230 percent increase, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit seeks injunctive relief, damages, civil penalties and disgorgement of profits made from illegal actions.

An attorney for the defendants was not listed on the lawsuit.

The 20 defendants now include: (new defendants highlighted in bold)

•Actavis Holdco U.S.

•Actavis Pharma

•Ascend Laboratories

•Apotex Corp

•Aurobindo Pharma USA

•Citron Pharma

•Dr. Reddy's Laboratories

•Emcure Pharmaceuticals

•Glenmark Pharmaceuticals

•Heritage Pharmaceuticals

•Lannett Company

•Rajiv Malik

•Mayne Pharma

•Satish Mehta

•Mylan Pharmaceuticals

•Par Pharmaceutical Companies

•Sandoz

•Sun Pharmaceutical Industries

•Teva Pharmaceuticals USA

•Zydus Pharmaceuticals