Sen. Harris seeks information from maker of opioid treatment
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) is requesting information from Alkermes, the maker of an opioid addiction treatment, over recent news reports alleging the pharmaceutical company aggressively lobbied to increase its sales.
“According to these reports, Alkermes has targeted much of its promotion for Vivitrol at law enforcement officials and lawmakers, efforts which have included the assignment of sales representatives to judges overseeing drug courts and free shots to inmates leaving jails and prisons,” Harris wrote in a letter Monday to Alkermes’s CEO and chairman, Richard Pops.
Alkermes makes Vivitrol, a monthly shot that’s used to treat addiction.
In the letter, Harris requests information from Alkermes, such as financial transactions, internal presentations and talking points, activities of Vivitrol sales representatives, studies on how Vivitrol compares to other medications and more.
“Alkermes strongly disagrees with Senator Harris’ comments,” the company said in an emailed statement.
It added: “Approved in 2010 for the treatment of opioid dependence, it is the only FDA-approved medication that completely blocks the effects of opioids. It does not produce physical dependence and thus is non-addictive. As such, it represents a disruptive approach that challenges the treatment status quo.”
Buprenorphine and methadone are two other Food and Drug Administration-approved medications for treating opioid use disorders. They’ve been around longer than the Vivitrol shot, which differs from the other two as it blocks a person from being able to feel any effect from heroin or a prescription painkiller.
In news reports, addiction experts have said Alkermes is unfairly painting itself as the best option for addiction, whereas different drugs are meant for different patients.
“That’s really an unfortunate dynamic,” Dr. Andy Chambers, an addiction psychiatrist in Indianapolis, told NPR and Side Effects in a story published in June. “They’re not designed to do the same thing. It’s like comparing apples and oranges.”
Alkermes increased its lobbying spending from about $192,500 in 2010 to more than $4.4 million in 2016, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Alkermes told NPR and Side Effects Public Media that, “To suggest that we have any more authority or influence than any other company, advocacy group or treatment provider that cares about this disease just isn’t fair.”
– This story was updated at 7:02 p.m.