Senator Kamala Harris To Investigate Vivitrol Maker's 'Aggressive' Marketing Practices

By Paul Gaita 11/08/17
The California senator has launched an investigation into the way Alkermes allegedly marketed Vivitrol to lawmakers and prison officials.
Senator Kamala Harris

California Democratic Senator Kamala Harris announced the launch of a new investigation into the sales and marketing practices by pharmaceutical manufacturer Alkermes.

According to Harris, the company, which produces the injectable opioid addiction treatment Vivitrol, allegedly sought to increase its sales through a combination of "aggressive" marketing to the criminal justice system and lobbying state and federal lawmakers—often promoting Vivitrol as a more effective form of treatment than drugs like Suboxone and methadone, despite having no substantive proof of this claim.

Harris has requested marketing and financial records and internal reports from Alkermes, which disputed the senator's claims.

In a statement issued to the press on November 6, Harris alleged that in addition to marketing Vivitrol to judges and prison officials—which has resulted in the drug's use in 450 treatment programs in 39 states—the company has spent millions of dollars in direct appeals to government officials, and contributed to numerous congressional campaigns. Sales of Vivitrol exceeded $69 million in the third quarter of 2017.

The statement quotes Dr. Anna Lembke, chief of addiction medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine, who said, "Alkermes has taken unethical drug promotion to new depths by enlisting judges, law enforcement personnel, and legislators to favor Vivitrol over proven treatments. Alkermes' actions undermine public health."

As part of her investigation, Harris has sent a letter to Alkermes Chairman Richard Pops requesting company data and communication on—among other topics—judicial officials and drug courts to which Alkermes has assigned sales representatives; and jails or prisons where Alkermes provided free shots of Vivitrol.

The company was also asked to hand over any materials provided to participants or speakers for Alkermes since 2010; and amounts paid by the company to various associations including the American Society of Addiction Medicine, National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and Partnership for Drug-Free Kids; and any studies presented to groups including the American Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence. 

A full list of Harris' requests in the text of the letter can be read here.

"We are at the height of a crisis, and companies are taking advantage of pain in order to profit," said Harris via the statement. "We must hold these companies accountable for their deliberate actions that magnify the opioid epidemic and drive up the cost of drugs for Americans."

Alkermes refuted the claims made by Senator Harris in its own statement, which noted that the company is "focused on ensuring that patients, health care professionals and criminal justice officials are educated on Vivitrol, and believes that patients should have access to all medications."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.