Ex Chesterfield pharma CEO pleads guilty in federal opioid treatment investigation
Indivior PLC CEO Shaun Thaxter stepped down Monday
Shaun Thaxter, former CEO of Chesterfield County-based pharmaceutical manufacturer Indivior PLC, pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court in Abingdon to a misdemeanor criminal charge related to the U.S Justice Department’s probe into the marketing of Suboxone, Indivior’s opioid addiction treatment drug.
Thaxter pleaded guilty to one count of violating the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act in connection with Indivior’s misrepresentations to the Massachusetts state Medicaid program regarding the safety of Suboxone Film, a product made and marketed by Indivior. He has agreed to pay $600,000 in fines and forfeiture and faces up to one year in prison. He will be sentenced on Sept. 29 by U.S. District Court Judge James P. Jones in Abingdon.
“The public must be able to trust pharmaceutical manufacturers and their executives — particularly when they are marketing powerful opioids,” said First Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel P. Bubar of the Western District of Virginia. “While he was the top executive of Indivior, Shaun Thaxter violated that trust, and must be held accountable.”
Indivior, a spinoff of British firm Reckitt Benckiser Group (RB Group), announced Monday that Thaxter had stepped down as CEO and was being replaced by Mark Crossley, the company’s chief financial and operations officer and executive director. Last year, RB Group agreed to pay $1.4 billion to the federal government and various states to resolve its potential criminal and civil liability in the Suboxone investigation.
Suboxone contains a combination of buprenorphine, a powerful and addictive opioid, and naloxone, an opioid overdose reversal drug. It is approved for use by recovering opioid addicts to avoid or reduce withdrawal symptoms while receiving treatment for addiction.
According to criminal complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Virginia, Thaxter asked Indivior employees to come up with a plan to get the Massachusetts Medicaid agency, MassHealth, to use Suboxone Film instead of a competitor’s non-opiate treatment. According to a news release from the U.S. Department of Justice, “Certain Indivior employees subsequently shared false and misleading safety information with MassHealth officials about Suboxone Film’s risk of accidental pediatric exposure. Two months after receiving that false and misleading information, MassHealth announced it would provide access to Suboxone Film for Medicaid patients with children under the age of 6.”
“By valuing profits over patients, Thaxter’s directions endangered numerous Medicaid beneficiaries and their families, especially young children, with accidental opioid exposure. When treatment medications are used, it is essential they be prescribed carefully, legally and based on accurate information, to protect the health and safety of patients in federal health care programs,” said Elton Malone, assistant inspector general for investigations with the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
A federal criminal case is still pending against Indivior, which was indicted in April 2019 for allegedly engaging in an illicit nationwide scheme to increase prescriptions of Suboxone. The federal criminal trial against Indivior is scheduled to begin on Sept. 28 in U.S. District Court in Abingdon.
“I look forward to working with the board to deliver the full potential of our key assets, to resolve outstanding investigations and litigations as expeditiously as possible, and to ensure that we continue to play a leading role in helping patients, doctors, and communities fight the human crisis of opioid addiction,” Crossley, Indivior’s new CEO, said in a statement Monday.
Thaxter had been the head of Indivior since 2009, when it was still known as Reckitt Benckiser Pharmaceuticals. Indivior was a U.S. subsidiary of the British consumer goods conglomerate until it was spun off as a separate business in December 2014.
In a statement released Monday, Thaxter said, “It has been an honor and a privilege to lead the development of Indivior as it focused on empowering individuals to overcome their addiction. We have truly been pioneers in developing new treatments and helping to change patients’ lives. Indivior has a highly talented management and workforce. I am confident in their ability to deliver against its vision as I prepare for my next business challenge.”