Duckworth asks FTC to investigate drug distributor over abortion pill

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) is asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate reports that drug distributor AmeriSourceBergen is refusing to distribute Mifeprex to retail pharmacies in certain states, but was continuing to sell directly to health providers.

In a letter sent Monday to FTC Chair Lina Kahn, Duckworth accused the company of exploiting the political climate around abortion medication in order to maximize profits.

AmeriSourceBergen “may be using broader political disagreements and active legal debates as pretextual cover and justification for engaging in anticompetitive, unfair and deceptive practices that are primarily concerned with maximizing profit margins,” Duckworth wrote.

Mifeprex is the brand name of mifepristone, one of two drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration for medication abortion. AmeriSourceBergen is the sole distributor of Mifeprex, meaning the company’s decisions could have a significant impact on access to the legally approved drug for millions of Americans.

Pharmacies could still dispense the generic version, if they can obtain it.

Lauren Esposito, a spokeswoman for AmerisourceBergen, pointed to a statement posted online earlier this month. In it, AmeriSourceBergen said it does not “independently decide what medications should be available to health care professionals as part of their treatment plans” and does “not make clinical decisions or values-based judgements on which FDA approved products it distributes.”

Esposito noted that Mifeprex is available in all 50 states to certified providers like OB-GYN clinics. 

“The legality of access at retail pharmacies, which only became available in any capacity following a January 2023 FDA decision, is dynamic and rapidly evolving in individual states based on nuances in state laws and regulations that are under regular pressure from legal challenges,” Esposito said. “AmerisourceBergen will continue distributing to all sites of care – including retail pharmacies – in a way that’s consistent with the law.” 

Duckworth’s letter comes amid rising tensions about access to medication abortion in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Mifepristone has been used by more than 3 million women in the United States since receiving FDA approval more than 20 years ago, and top medical groups maintain it is safe and effective.

When the Biden administration in January made it possible for pharmacies to dispense mifepristone, major chains like Walgreens and CVS said they were working to obtain certification from the drugmaker to sell the pills.

But at the same time, GOP state officials have been working to clamp down and restrict access to the drugs, putting pressure on pharmacies and drug companies.

Walgreens waded into the controversy recently by saying it would not dispense mifepristone in 21 states after being threatened with legal action by GOP attorneys general — even states where abortion broadly, and medication abortion specifically, is currently legal.

Duckworth said she wants the FTC to look into whether AmeriSourceBergen is using the controversy over reproductive rights to its advantage.

“The bottom line is that a major wholesale distributor with market dominance over a product that retail pharmacies may wish to purchase, appears to be using its monopolistic market power to conspire against doing business with an entire industry of retail pharmacies,” Duckworth wrote.

Updated: 3:21 p.m.

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