Different Justice For A Drug Dealer

Different Justice For A Drug Dealer

On May 5, Larry Golbom, Pete Jackson and a number of our fellow members of Advocates For Prescription Opioid Drug Reform (“APODR”) will return to Rockville, Maryland for the second time. The FDA has invited us to another “invitation only” meeting for the next discussion of the appropriate Risk Evaluation Mitigation Study (“REMS”) requirements for dangerous narcotics opioids like OxyContin. As we explained in a previous newsletter, the FDA has had the opportunity to restrict the availability of these dangerous narcotics since 2007. The most abused prescription narcotic in the US today is OxyContin. It is manufactured and distributed by Purdue Pharma. All of us who have seen the suffering caused by OxyContin addiction or dependency or who work to repair the ravaged lives created by OxyContin were excited when we read that Purdue Pharma and Michael Friedman, the president and CEO, Howard Udell, the company's general counsel, and Paul Goldenheim, the company's former medical director,all pled guilty to felony criminal charges in 2007. The company and its executives admitted that they had lied about the addictive qualities of OxyContin, their narcotic drug.

You see, these lies were more serious than someone saying that their vitamin works better than other vitamins when they have no evidence. Or saying that their drain cleaner works better than other drain cleaners when they know that it is not true. A manufacturer's false statements can subject the manufacturer and even their officers to civil and criminal prosecution. We have seen this with many companies. We know that our government doesn't tolerate false vitamin or drain cleaner claims. Yet, our government seems to have a different set of rules if the corporate manufacturer is a dangerous drug dealer and has lots of money. You see, Purdue's lies didn't cause a person to take more of a vitamin or to call a plumber. Oxycodone, the active ingredient in OxyContin, is molecularly almost identical to heroin and works in the body the same way as heroin. While heroin was once a medicine in the United States, it was banned in 1914 because of its addictive qualities, and now its purchase and use is illegal and the jails and morgues are full of people who used heroin. People who cannot get heroin from a dealer can substitute OxyContin and get the same high. The difference is that OxyContin, legal heroin, is legal. Although a highly controlled Schedule II drug, OxyContin can be purchased from a corner drug store if you have a prescription from a medical doctor.


The lies of Purdue and its executives led to many doctors prescribing this legal heroin substitute because they believed Purdue's information that OxyContin was not nearly as addictive as some of the other narcotics on the market. These prescriptions led to many unsuspecting patients becoming dependent (they have withdrawal symptoms if they try to stop taking the drug) or addicted (they have withdrawal symptoms if they stop taking the drug but also they crave the way the drug makes them feel and will do almost anything to get the drug). OxyContin is becoming very familiar to Emergency Room doctors and to doctors performing autopsies to determine why a teenager died. OxyContin is a familiar drug to police and to judges. OxyContin is known as “Hillbilly Heroin” in many parts of the country. At Novus, most of our patients coming to withdraw from narcotics are withdrawing from OxyContin.


We were disappointed when we saw the punishment. After all, for doing this devastation to people, we expected that the three responsible executives would be jailed. Being fined $680 million is a lot of money, but when you know that Purdue has over $10 billion dollars of OxyContin sales, this just seemed like a slap on the wrist, not real punishment for their profiting from the misery of others. Now two years later, Purdue is still marketing their legal heroin substitute and their former executives are not in jail. The other fact that is confusing is that there is a federal law that any company convicted of a felony (agreeing to plead guilty is the same as being convicted) can no longer do business with the federal government. However, OxyContin is still being covered by Medicare and prescribed to people in U.S. Armed Forces. How could this be? Pete Jackson, one of the leaders of APODR, sent me an article entitled, They Did the Crime, But They Do No Time, by Corporate Crime Reporter that was published in Counterpunch on May 16, 2007, that explained how this corporate criminal is still in business.

The article stated, “ If you read the papers last week, you might now believe that Purdue Pharma, the Stamford, Connecticut-based maker of OxyContin, pled guilty last week to pushing OxyContin by making claims that it is less addictive and less subject to abuse than other pain medications and that it continued to do so despite warnings to the contrary from doctors, the media, and members of its own sales force. You might believe, as the Los Angeles Times and other newspapers reported, "Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty to one felony count of fraudulently misbranding a drug." One problem. Purdue Pharma did not plead guilty to this crime. It was Purdue Frederick that pled guilty.” It turns out that Purdue Pharma agreed for an associated company, Purdue Frederick, to plead guilty to the felony charges. Now Purdue Frederick apparently does not manufacture or distribute OxyContin or any other drug. This means that though the punishment appeared in the press to be severe, it is really not even an inconvenience. To make matters even worse, the three executives were allowed to retain their millions in salaries and bonuses and not serve a single day in prison.


Purdue had to know that their lies would be disclosed. One advantage of having hundreds of millions of dollars of drug profits is that you can hire “respectable” people who are willing to represent even a drug dealer for enough money. In a press release dated May 28, 2002, Purdue Pharma announced that it hired Giuliani Partners, LLC. Rudy Giuliani was one of the most popular men in the country and had access to all the right people in government. When U.S. Attorney Brownlee came after Purdue, Giuliani was ready to ensure that his client got the best possible treatment. Having other experienced defense lawyers helped as well and the deal was done. The trick, appear to punish but not really punish Purdue. They succeeded.

As the article stated, “The more than 200 other affiliated Purdue Pharma companies scattered around the world and listed in Appendix A of the non-prosecution agreement get off. No felony charge. No exclusion. Business as usual.” The article continued, “In his statement that he read before the cameras last week, U.S. Attorney Brownlee said that Purdue Frederick is the "manufacturer and distributor" of OxyContin. Well, as it turns out, they used to be. No longer. Now, that's Purdue Pharma. In an interview with Corporate Crime Reporter, Brownlee admits that Purdue Frederick was chosen to plead guilty because 'we didn't want to ban the future sale of the drug.' Had Purdue Pharma been forced to plead guilty, OxyContin would have been excluded from Medicare coverage, he said. "And we didn't want that," Brownlee says.”


Purdue Pharma admitted in court that it lied and we know that people died and are dying every day because of their product, but the U.S. Attorney says that he didn't want to see Purdue get the punishment other similar criminals get. If the U.S. Attorney won't punish this criminal company, it is even more important that the FDA take action to save lives and prevent the devastation created by OxyContin and other deadly narcotics. Instead of treating symptoms with deadly narcotics, why not require doctors to actually try to find the cause before they give narcotics that only block the pain signals and never address the real cause? We need rules that will prevent the drug-dealing doctors from continuing to prescribe narcotics for as little as a $100 fee and ignore the obvious fact that their patients don't have any pain issues but are addicted to OxyContin--legal heroin. Just as it should be in any other type of business, there have to be consequences for the people who lie and mislead in order to increase their company's profits and their personal wealth. Normally, this type of conduct is associated with the activities of organized crime.

We know how the law attacks organized crime. Why should a corrupt drug dealer like Purdue be treated differently? Because they have hired famous people to represent them? Because they have almost unlimited amounts of money? Abraham Lincoln once asked a man who was arguing a point that Lincoln felt unjustified, “If you call the lamb's tail a leg, how many legs would a lamb have? The man answered, “Five.” Lincoln shook his head and said, “No, calling a tail a leg does not make it a leg. The lamb only has four legs.” Calling the punishment exacted on Purdue Pharma “justice” does not make it justice. If the proper punishment had been given to Purdue Pharma and its executives, many lives would have been saved. The word “equal” in the term “equal justice” should mean that all criminals are treated the same. The next time you hear about a drug company pleading guilty to lying and misrepresenting things, see if the company that pleads guilty is the company that sells the product. Also, see if it is a felony or a misdemeanor? A misdemeanor only means, “Don't do that again, please.”


It is time that Purdue Pharma receives the punishment that Purdue should have received when they pled guilty to criminal felony charges. At Novus, we help people more comfortably and safely withdraw from OxyContin, methadone, heroin, Vicodin, Xanax and other psychoactive drugs. Please give us a call if we can help.

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