OLYMPIA -- Washington and 15 other states today filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Michigan alleging that four drug manufacturers illegally conspired to keep a cheaper, generic form of a widely prescribed heart medication off the market for at least a year.
According to the complaint, drug manufacturers Aventis (formerly Hoechst Marion Roussel), Andrx and others manipulated laws intended to encourage competition and ease the entry of cheaper generic drugs into the market.
In this case, the states allege that Aventis conspired with Andrx to keep a generic form of Cardizem CD - a time release medication used to treat chest pain, high blood pressure and heart disease -- off the market.
That conspiracy, the states allege, forced consumers and taxpayers to pay higher prices for the medication. In exchange for keeping the cheaper version off the market, Andrx received payments of about $100 million per year, according to the complaint.
"Drug manufacturers cannot agree to keep a cheaper, generic versions of a drug off the market simply to shore up their profit margins," said Attorney General Christine Gregoire. "This behavior was a clear attempt to keep the market from functioning properly and denied consumers access to a cheaper, equally effective product."
The complaint seeks $100 million in restitution in addition to civil damages and penalties on behalf of the 16 states, their agencies and consumers.
According to some estimates, state agencies and consumers in Washington may have paid an additional $500,000 or more for the medication than they would have if the generic form of the drug had come to market.
Cardizem CD is one of the most widely prescribed heart medications, but it is also expensive. A month's prescription of Cardizem costs $67. In 1997 alone, Cardizem earned its maker more than $700 million in sales and was the company's largest revenue producer.