European officials say J&J made payments to delay release of generic fentanyl patch

by Heygood Orr and Pearson

Financial regulators in Europe have accused two leading drug companies of colluding to keep a generic version of the fentanyl pain patch off the market. According to the European Union’s top antitrust official, Johnson & Johnson made payments to Sandoz—a division of drugmaker Novartis—in exchange for the company delaying the release of a generic fentanyl patch in The Netherlands.

An investigation by EU antitrust officials found that after Johnson & Johnson’s payments to Sandoz, the company delayed the launch of its generic fentanyl patch in The Netherlands from July 2005 to December 2006. Because the generic fentanyl patch costs much less than the brand-name patch sold by Johnson & Johnson, the delay kept prices artificially high in The Netherlands and helped increase profits for J&J.

Because fentanyl patches used by European patients are frequently paid for by government-run health plans, the additional costs resulting from these alleged payments may have cost these government health plans additional money as well. EU antitrust regulators say that they will give Johnson & Johnson and Novartis time to respond to the allegations before taking any possible action against either company.

Fentanyl patch manufacturers are also facing numerous lawsuits in the U.S. from patients who suffered serious injuries after using the pain patch. Hundreds of fentanyl lawsuits have been filed on behalf of patients who suffered an overdose or other side effects after being treated with Duragesic or generic fentanyl patches.