Reckitt Benckiser ordered by Australian court to pull ibuprofen painkillers

An Australian court ruled that British drugmaker Reckitt Benckiser would have to pull its series of ibuprofen painkillers off the market within three months and pay a fine that could reach $800,000 per product. In addition, the company could still face regulatory rejections.

The court case was brought by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission last March, the Sydney Morning Herald reported, accusing Reckitt Benckiser of marketing Nurofen (ibuprofen) in different packaging, each claiming treatment for a specific type of pain. The company denied it tried to mislead consumers.

In truth, the commission said, all the products contained the 342 milligrams of ibuprofen lysine. And, it said, none was better for treating one type of pain over another and each was about double the price of its competitor.

Aside from the court action, the Therapeutic Goods Administration will have to pass on changes ordered in the Nurofen packaging for the separate products. Now, each carries the name of a specific pain and additional information for treating that pain.

The case also drew interest after Australia said in November it will no longer cover basic nonprescription drugs like paracetamol and aspirin under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme starting in 2016 in an effort to save funds for newer drugs.

Among the pain types are back, tension, migraines and menstrual periods. The commission said consumers not only paid extra for a pill to treat their specific pain, many also bought one of the other Nurofen products to treat another pain it claimed to target.

ACCC Chairman Rod Sims

A fine has not been assessed, but it could be as much as $721,000 for each pain-specific product, the number to be determined by the commission. ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said the agency would attempt to get a fine large enough to send the company and the industry a message.

In the court proceedings, Reckitt Benckiser admitted that what it did was misleading, but the Sydney Morning Herald cited a company spokeswoman who denied there was any intent to mislead consumers.

She said the different products were intended to help consumers navigate the slew of painkillers on the market. The company would comply fully with the court's order, she said, but did not say if it planned to continue marketing Nurofen in Australia.

For its part, the ACCC said that after the three months to get the current products off the shelves, it would allow the company to continue the same packaging and product names for another six months, but they would have to carry a sticker disclosing they were as good for one pain as another. That would give the drugmaker time to design a new package that passes TGA muster.

In addition to the other orders, the court required Reckitt Benckiser to run corrections on its web site and in newspapers, adopt a program of consumer-protection compliance and cover the ACCC's court costs.

- here's the story from the Sydney Morning Herald
- and one from Australian Broadcasting Corp.