Reckitt Benckiser to pay over £1bn to resolve US opioid crisis investigation

British household goods giant Reckitt Benckiser has agreed with US authorities to pay more than £1 billion to resolve an investigation into a former subsidiary’s opioid addiction drug.

The company will pay up to 1.4 billion US dollars (£1.1 billion) as part of an agreement with the US Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission to resolve a long-running investigation into how its former subsidiary Indivior marketed the drug Suboxone.

The company said it had acted lawfully at all times and denied any wrongdoing, but had determined that the agreement was in the best interest of shareholders.

It is one of the biggest penalties paid by a company in relation to the opioid crisis since OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma paid 600 million dollars (£479 million) in 2007 after pleading guilty to misleading the public about the drug’s risk of addiction.

Earlier this year, a federal grand jury indicted Reckitt’s former pharmaceuticals business Indivior, which was fully spun out as a separate company in 2014.

Indivior has been accused of making unfounded claims to drive sales of a new version of Suboxone between 2006 and 2015.

The dissolvable film form of the drug was marketed as having a lower risk of being abused, but prosecutors say Indivior knew it could potentially be more dangerous.

If found guilty, Indivior could be liable to pay as much as three billion dollars (£2.4 billion).

Following Indivior’s indictment, fears have grown that Reckitt could be made to pick up some of the bill or even be indicted itself.

The agreement announced on Thursday will fully resolve all federal investigations into Reckitt that are connected to the Indivior indictment, and protect the group’s participation in any US government schemes.

Reckitt said the board had chosen to settle the matter to avoid “costs, uncertainty and distraction” at a time when it is undergoing both a strategy shift and a CEO transition.