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The Alpharma Morphine Painkiller Probe Ain't Over: "Unnamed Defendant" Still Twists in the Wind

The feds may be trying to send a message to makers of morphine-based painkillers in its $42.5 million settlement with Alpharma: Abuse your promotion of these drugs and individual members of management will face bans from doing business from the government.

Also, the deal between King Pharmaceuticals (KG) (which owns Alpharma), three partner companies, and the Department of Justice over the mismarketing of Kadian is not the end of the story. Another shoe may drop on a mysterious, unnamed fifth suspect, according to papers filed by the DOJ in the case.

And, in the DOJ's settlement filing, there's specific language insisting that the Office of the Inspector General of the Health and Human Services department may still boot Alpharma/King execs from the drug business, in just the same way it did to the top brass of Purdue Pharma after they were convicted of mismarketing Oxycontin:

OIG-HHS expressly reserves all rights to institute, direct, or to maintain any administrative action seeking exclusion against Alpharma and/or King, and/or their officers, directors, and employees, from Medicare, Medicaid, and all other Federal health care programs...
Such bans are career suicide -- virtually all drug companies do business with the government. The Purdue execs are currently litigating to get their privileges back.

They are also not standard. When Pfizer (PFE) settled with the DOJ over its painkiller Bextra, there was no HHS ban in the deal. Bextra is not a morphine sulphate product, which suggests that the feds are particularly annoyed at companies that sell addictive painkillers.

As for the fifth suspect, the DOJ filing says:

... the United States has not determined, as yet, whether intervention is appropriate with respect to the Unnamed Defendant.
Doubtless there will be some managers at King and Alpharma whose shirt collars will be damp with stress sweat for the next few weeks as the DOJ decides what to do. It says the investigation is ongoing. In the meantime, if you're an Alpharma employee, try humming "Harry Lime's Theme" from the movie "The Third Man" around the office and see who looks most spooked.


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