Suboxone maker Reckitt Benckiser Pharmaceuticals Inc. confirmed recently that the company has decided to stop selling Suboxone tablets in the US.

No more little orange pills.

The company will continue to sell Suboxone film (small strips that dissolve under the tongue).

Suboxone is a treatment for opioid dependence.

Reckitt says that the change will likely happen within the next six months.

Issue One: Child Safety

The company says that the move is motivated by a desire to help keep children from gaining access to the medication by mistake.  Children can die from an accidental overdose if they swallow the medication.

Unlike tablets, film or “strips” are individually wrapped, and data from the US Poison Control Centers shows that this has resulted in safety benefits for children.

Maybe I should just thank Reckitt for watching out for America’s children and end this post here.  But I have to admit that I am not feeling that warm and fuzzy about Reckitt’s announcement.

One line in their press release bothered me.  It reads, “The pediatric exposure safety issue is not related to the active ingredients found in both Suboxone Tablets and Suboxone Film.”


Reckitt is trying to say that the issue is the packaging, not the medication.  And it seems like they may be implying that since Suboxone film is better packaged, it solves the risk to children.

But if the pill bottle was full of Skittles and not Suboxone, we wouldn’t be worried about children overdosing.  And we wouldn’t need to worry about individual, child-resistant wrapping of Suboxone film.

The statement seems a little less than accurate and more than a little self-serving.

Damn skippy the risk to children has to do with what is in the bottle or the wrapper!  We need to be clear about that.  Packaging changes may help reduce the risk, but the switch to film doesn’t solve the problem.


Reckitt wants to look like the responsible adult in the room by volunteering to discontinue access to Suboxone tablets.  But they have a financial incentive to make that move beyond the altruistic desire to protect children.

Suboxone in tablet form lost patent protection in 2009, but Suboxone in film form is still protected by patent.  If Suboxone film becomes the standard, Reckitt doesn’t have to worry about competition from a generic version of the medication coming into the market.

And even if altruism is part of the motive here, I can’t help but believe that profit motives delayed the decision to pull Suboxone tablets from the market until after Suboxone film was FDA approved, manufactured, marketed and sold well.

Issue Two: Access To Suboxone Treatment

If Reckitt is in an altruistic mood, how about supporting access to generic versions of Suboxone so that more people can afford the treatment?  Instead, Reckitt is working to make it harder for competitors to enter the market.

Now that Reckitt has decided to stop selling tablets, they have submitted a “Citizens Petition” to the FDA asking that the FDA require that anyone who sells a generic version of the medication in tablet form in the future is required to individually package the tablets.  This would increase the cost of the generic tablets and make it harder for the generic maker to compete in the market.

Funny, they never did that when they were making the tablets!

It will be interesting and revealing to see if Reckitt will continue to sell Suboxone tablets outside of the US without individually packaging the pills.  Time will tell.

I am not one to bash drug companies just for the hell of it.  I fully recognize the huge benefits many people have experienced from Suboxone treatment.  I see it every day.

That’s why I would like to see generic Suboxone available.

With $1.2 billion US dollars in Suboxone sales in 2011 alone, I think Reckitt has more than recouped their research and development costs and can survive some competition.

If you want to keep generic competition out of the market Reckitt, how about lowering the cost of the medication?  You will allow more people access to Suboxone treatment, and make it less likely that another company will make a generic version of Suboxone to try and compete with you on price.


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