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Attorney General Reaches Settlement With Drug Giant

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Attorney General Roy Cooper announced Friday that a major pharmaceutical manufacturer has agreed to stop blocking consumers' access to generic drugs and to pay refunds to consumers.

North Carolina joined 34 other states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico in an agreement to settle charges that Bristol-Myers Squibb deliberately blocked consumers' access to generic equivalents to the widely prescribed anti-anxiety drug BuSpar.

Also named in the preliminary settlement filed Friday in court are Watson Pharma, Inc., and Danbury Pharmacal, Inc.

"Some consumers paid too much for their prescriptions because they couldn't get access to a cheaper generic alternative," Cooper said. "Consumers can look forward to refunds and, hopefully, lower prices in the future."

Following final approval by the court, Friday's settlement will compensate consumers who purchased BuSpar between Jan. 1, 1998, and Dec. 31, 2002.

This likely will result in payments of $200-$300 for many consumers who paid full price for the drug because no generic alternative was available.

Details on how consumers can file a claim will be provided later.

Bristol-Myers Squibb will also reimburse state and local health agencies that paid full price when no generic alternative was available.

The agreement would settle allegations brought by the states in December 2001 that Bristol-Myers Squibb lied to government regulators in order to keep generic alternatives to BuSpar off the market for months.

Investigators discovered that Bristol-Myers Squibb misled the Food and Drug Administration when applying for a new patent for BuSpar, telling the FDA that the patent protected the company's exclusive right to manufacture the drug and barred other manufacturers from selling generic equivalents.

Consumers and the state of North Carolina would have been able to save money by purchasing a generic version of BuSpar, had it been available. Generics can save consumers 30 to 40 percent over brand-name prices. If several generic versions are available, competition can lower prices by 70 to 80 percent.

Under Friday's agreement, Bristol-Myers Squibb is barred from re-listing the patent for BuSpar and for other drugs as a way to squash generic alternatives.

Bristol-Myers Squibb is also forbidden from making false statements to the FDA and cannot enter into agreements with generic drug manufacturers if those agreements would adversely affect competition. The proposed injunction, negotiated in coordination with the Federal Trade Commission, would be binding for 10 years.

"When drug companies don't play by the rules, my office will take action to make sure that the prices of prescription drugs are reasonable," Cooper said, "so that consumers can afford the medication they need."

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