Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) is investigating the pharmaceutical company Alkermes for its marketing and lobbying efforts used to “artificially boost sales” of its addiction drug, Vivitrol.
The investigation follows reports from Side Effects Public Media, NPR and the New York Times, which found that the company engaged in aggressive promotion of its drug, often at the expense of cheaper, more proven treatments. In Indiana, for instance, a mental health advocate and Alkermes lobbyist was responsible for legislation favoring Vivitrol. And reports from Side Effects and ProPublica also found that Alkermes was targeting judges and other non-medical professionals to increase the use of its drug.
“It’s clear that pharmaceutical companies like Alkermes have way too much influence and power and too little accountability,” said Harris in a written statement released Monday. “We are at the height of a crisis and companies are taking advantage of pain in order to profit.”
Vivitrol, a monthly shot approved to treat opioid addiction in 2010, blocks the effects of opioids in the brain. While efficacious for some people with opioid addiction, it’s not appropriate for all patients. Buprenorphine and methadone, the other two drugs approved by the FDA to treat opioid addiction, are opioids themselves. They reduce cravings and prevent withdrawal, helping people to avoid illicit drug use. Both have decades of evidence supporting their efficacy.
No long-term studies have been published comparing Vivitrol to the other drugs.
Harris sent a letter to Alkermes CEO Richard Pops requesting more information on the company’s tactics, including a list of court officials and policymakers targeted by Alkermes representatives, copies of educational materials and the amounts paid to various addiction-related professional organizations.
The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.