Hundreds of generic drugs at center of probe into ‘largest cartel’ in US history

Investigators are looking into executives at more than a dozen generic-drug companies over a massive price-fixing scheme, in what is being called potentially the largest U.S. drug cartel, the Washington Post reported.

“This is most likely the largest cartel in the history of the United States,” Joseph Nielsen, an assistant attorney general and antitrust investigator in Connecticut, told the Post.

The investigation reportedly began in 2016, in response to a complaint filed by states against two drugs. Nielsen told the Post that the probe now includes at least 16 companies – like Mylan and Teva – and 300 drugs.

The ring of pharmaceutical companies has allegedly overcharged consumers and taxpayers for common drugs ranging from antibiotics to anxiety pills, authorities reportedly said. The effects have rippled throughout the health care sector, also affecting hospitals and insurance companies. In one instance, cited by the Post, the cost of albuterol – a common asthma treatment – surged more than 3,400 percent, to $4.70 from $0.13.

More than 1 million documents – including texts and emails – are said to be cited as evidence. Those messages include terminology developed to discuss the price-fixing scheme, like using “sandbox” to describe the generic prescription drug market, according to the Post.

Generic drugs account for the majority of prescriptions filled in the U.S.: Only 18 percent of prescriptions filled last year were branded drugs, which accounted for 78 percent of total spending.

The Trump administration has focused on speeding up the approval process for generic drugs as one way to lower health care costs for consumers. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said that fiscal 2018 has seen the most generic drug approvals in history.