When Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry inherited an antitrust lawsuit levied against Pfizer by his predecessor in 2015, he spotted an opportunity to combat the state’s mounting opioid epidemic.
The lawsuit has nothing to do with prescription opioids—it alleged Pfizer was trying to block generic versions of its anti-convulsant Neurontin—but the pharma giant also manufactures naloxone, the drug that rapidly reverses the effects of opioid overdoses. And therein was the opportunity.
Landry announced Monday that instead of a cash settlement in the antitrust case, Pfizer will provide Louisiana with 60,000 vials of naloxone, worth about $1 million. The drug will be distributed to first responders via vouchers, each of which can be redeemed for 10 doses, Landry said during a press conference broadcast live on Facebook.
“In working with Pfizer, we saw an opportunity to get at one of the dimensions … in this fight against the opioid epidemic,” Landry said. He added that his office would be working with fire and police departments in the state to ensure they have enough doses on hand.
Louisiana State Senator Fred Mills noted during the press conference that other states had reached cash agreements with Pfizer in antitrust cases, but that Louisiana’s lawmakers felt naloxone would be more valuable to the state, which ranks in the top 10 for opioid overdoses.
“This is the most unique settlement in the United States,” he said.
"We are pleased to have reached an agreement with the Louisiana Attorney General that helps to address the serious public health concern of prescription opioid abuse," a Pfizer spokeswoman said in an email to Fierce Pharma.
This is not the first time Pfizer has worked with local legislators to fight opioid abuse. Last summer, the company formed an agreement on painkiller marketing with the city of Chicago, publicly codifying its own internal rules for the sale of its one opioid-based painkiller. Chicago sued several other pharma companies, including Teva and Purdue, alleging they used unfair marketing practices to steer patients toward opioids for pain relief.
Pfizer wasn’t named in that suit, nor did it admit any wrongdoing in its pact with the city. A company spokeswoman told Fierce at the time that Pfizer believed allying with Chicago to fight opioid abuse was an important public health initiative.
Pfizer’s settlement with the Louisiana AG’s office came on the same day a New York county filed a lawsuit against four drugmakers in state court alleging that deceptive marketing played down the risks of opioid painkillers. The suit named units of Teva and Endo, as well as Purdue Pharma and Johnson & Johnson, according to Reuters. Pfizer is not named in that suit.
As for doling out naloxone to settle a Neurontin issue, that was a shrewd move by Pfizer to shed itself of charges it’s been fighting since 2002. Several Neurontin purchasers filed antitrust claims against the company back then alleging it set out to protect its brand against generic competition by filing “sham” patent lawsuits. It became a class action suit, which Pfizer settled in 2014 for $190 million.
But some states still had claims against the company, including Louisiana. For AG Landry, $1 million worth of naloxone was the best possible outcome. Landry called the vials of naloxone that Pfizer will be providing to the state “priceless” during the press conference.