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The AARP, the nation’s largest lobbying group for older Americans, is accusing pharmaceutical companies of paying their competitors not to market cheaper generic drugs. The group on Wednesday joined three lawsuits filed last year against six drug companies, alleging patent abuse, suppression of generic competition and collusion with generic manufacturers. “Drug companies are violating antitrust laws when they pay each other not to compete and delay generic manufacturers from getting drugs to consumers as quickly as they otherwise would,” said Sarah Lock, senior attorney for the AARP, formerly the American Association of Retired Persons. Consumer groups, especially those representing the elderly, are increasingly concerned about the high cost of prescription drugs. Congress has stalled in its efforts to alleviate the expense of drugs by providing a prescription drug benefit as part of Medicare. “We really regret that AARP is walking down the wrong road,” said Jeff Trewhitt, spokesman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. “They’ve taken up with the nation’s trial lawyers, instead of working with representatives in Congress and the White House in Washington to reform Medicare and provide drug coverage.” The AARP, which has 35 million members, says it joined the three cases because they involve drugs widely used by Americans aged 50 and older. One lawsuit charges Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. of illegally maintaining a monopoly on BuSpar, an anti-anxiety drug. Another alleges Schering-Plough Corp., Upsher-Smith Laboratories Inc. and American Home Products (now Wyeth) conspired to keep off the market a generic version of K-Dur-20, which treats side effects of high blood pressure medication. The third suit says AstraZeneca and Barr Laboratories colluded to keep off the market a generic version of the breast cancer drug tamoxifen. AARP attorneys will serve as co-counsel in cases associated with the Prescription Access Litigation Project, a coalition of consumer and health groups. Telephone calls seeking comment were not immediately returned from Bristol-Myers in New York, Barr Laboratories in Pomona, N.Y., Wyeth in Madison, N.J., Upsher-Smith Laboratories in Minneapolis and Schering-Plough Corp. in Kenilworth, N.J. AstraZeneca in London could not be reached for comment. Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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