Spitzer Announces $100 Million Antitrust Lawsuit Against Drug Makers For Keeping Generic Version Of Popular Blood Pressure Medication Off Market

Attorney General Spitzer announced today that he has filed a $100 million lawsuit against two major drug companies for conspiring to keep a generic version of a popular heart medication off the market and unavailable to consumers.

Spitzer filed the suit today against Aventis and Andrx on behalf of consumers in New York, 15 other states and the District of Columbia. Aventis produces Cardizem CD, a highly effective medication for high blood pressure, chest pains and heart disease.

It is charged that for a year beginning in July 1998, Hoechst, a pharmaceutical company acquired by Aventis last year, paid Andrx just under $100 million not to bring to market a generic version of Cardizem CD. Cardizem CD was a huge money maker for Hoechst, accounting for more than $700 million in sales in 1997.

Today, Cardizem CD costs approximately $65 per month for a typical dosage, while generic versions cost about half that amount. It's estimated that the difference in price for a year's prescription was approximately $400.

"Four hundred dollars is a significant sum of money, especially for seniors getting by on Social Security and perhaps a small pension," said Spitzer. "For those forced to pay for the more expensive, brand name drug, it often meant cutting back on something else, be it other medications, food, clothing, or trips to see children and grandchildren.

"We will not allow private companies to conspire and keep generic drugs off the shelves and unavailable to consumers simply to increase their profits."

It's estimated that some 70,000 people in New York, and one million nationwide, take Cardizem CD or its generic versions.

A study by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) estimated that seniors spend an average of $410 a year on out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs and $2,370, or 18 percent, of their income for all of their health care costs.

Another study showed that one of every four seniors either skip taking their medications, or cut back on the doses, because they cannot afford them.

The Director of the Joint Public Affairs Committee for Older Americans, Amy West, added, "It is disgusting to think that at the same time the drug industry raked in record profits, people were forced to cut back or skip doses because they could not afford the price of medication. By now allowing this drug and many others to be offered in generic form, the industry did not just rip people off, but it jeopardized their health."

Spitzer is seeking restitution for consumers and taxpayer-financed government programs, like Medicaid, in the lawsuit. The minimum amount of restitution that the states' will seek is $100 million, and that number could increase.

A private lawsuit in the case has been filed in federal court in Michigan and a judge there has ruled that Hoechst and Andrx broke antitrust laws. The drug makers are currently appealing that ruling. New York and other states involved in today's case will file a 'friend of the court' brief in the appeal in support of the plaintiffs.

The states' case was filed in federal court in Michigan today. The other plaintiff states are Michigan, Arizona, California, Idaho, Indiana, Maine, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia.

Also taking part in the news conference was Helen Tono, a Manhattan senior citizen who takes a generic version of Cardizem CD.

The case is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Aimee Pollak and Deputy Bureau Chief Kathleen Harris of Spitzer's Antitrust Bureau under the direction of Bureau Chief Jay Himes.