Purdue Pharma to Stop Marketing Oxycontin to Doctors in the United States

Purdue Pharma to Stop Marketing Oxycontin to Doctors in the United States

After suffering years of massively negative public relations and countless lawsuits for its role in helping create the opioid epidemic, Purdue Pharma has announced it will cease marketing its painkiller OxyContin directly to doctors.

The Stamford, CT, drugmaker says it will lay off half its direct sales force - about 200 people - and those who remain will not be calling on physicians to promote OxyContin or its other opioid painkillers, Butrans and Hysingla ER.

"We have restructured and significantly reduced our commercial operation and will no longer be promoting opioids to prescribers," Purdue said in a statement.

Back in 2007, Purdue Pharma was sued by the federal government and numerous states for marketing OxyContin illegally. The courts found the company guilty of numerous civil and criminal charges, and it was fined $600 million - at the time the largest fine ever levied against a U.S. corporation. It's top three executives were also criminally convicted, sentenced to three years' probation and 400 hours of community service, and fined an additional $34.5 million.

A report in the newsletter FiercePharma says more than a dozen states, including New York, New Jersey, Alabama and Washington, and more than 100 cities and counties, are suing Purdue (and a list of other makers, distributors and even some drugstores) over charges it facilitated the U.S. opioid crisis through aggressive marketing.

Purdue is also a codefendant, along with Endo International, Johnson & Johnson's Janssen, Teva Pharmaceutical and Allergan, in an opioid marketing investigation underway by 39 states' attorneys general, says FiercePharma.

In other words, say the lawsuits, Purdue and other opioid makers and distributors have continued to practice misleading and harmful marketing, years after Purdue paid its record-setting fines for exactly the same offenses.

Meanwhile, the epidemic of prescription opioid addiction and overdose deaths has continued to rage on.

Planting the seeds of an epidemic

But the story begins more than 20 years ago. Back in 1996, Purdue began marketing a new time-release opioid painkiller, OxyContin, by promoting it as "safe and effective for treating pain, with little or no risk of dependence and addiction."

American doctors blindly bought the fairytale, thus participating in planting the seeds of the worst opioid epidemic in history. It's taken them years to fully realize just how false and dangerous Purdue's claims were.

The CDC calls it "the worst drug overdose epidemic in US history." In case you ask, Was there ever an earlier drug overdose epidemic, the answer is, You bet there was. In the mid-to-late 1800s, a vast opioid epidemic swept across America, reaching its peak in the 1890s. It was largely over by the 1920s, but it took an enormous toll on Americans.

Of course, that was when opioids were more or less legal and widely available to everyone. It's a lot different today. A group of leading public health specialists describe, in the 2015 Annual Review of Public Health, just how Purdue planted the seeds of the current epidemic:

"Between 1996 and 2002, Purdue Pharma funded more than 20,000 pain-related educational programs through direct sponsorship or financial grants and launched a multifaceted campaign to encourage long-term use of opioid pain relievers for chronic non-cancer pain. As part of this campaign, Purdue provided financial support to the American Pain Society, the American Academy of Pain Medicine, the Federation of State Medical Boards,...pain patient groups, and other organizations. In turn, these groups all advocated for more aggressive identification and treatment of pain, especially use of opioid pain relievers."

Over the past 15 years, the rate of opioid pain reliever use in the United States has literally exploded. From 1999 to 2011, the Review says, consumption of hydrocodone more than doubled, but consumption of oxycodone - the active opioid in OxyContin - increased by nearly 500 percent. In case you're math-challenged, that's quintupled, a growth by a factor of five times. And in that same time period, opioid-related overdose deaths quadrupled.

A closer look reveals even more

To its credit, Purdue spent a lot of time and money developing an "abuse-deterrent" version of OxyContin, hopefully making it more difficult to snort, smoke or inject. And misuse of OxyContin did drop. But a new study just released last month found that abuse-deterrent OxyContin simply led countless thousands of prescription opioid abusers to switch to the less expensive and even more dangerous street heroin and now, even deadlier fentanyl.

As a result, the study says, there has been a zero net reduction in overall opioid overdose deaths. Of course Purdue probably doesn't deserve the blame for that.

Meanwhile, as Purdue attempts to clean up its act at home with the announcement and numerous public relations moves involving publicity, it may be busy developing its shady opioid marketing practices in several other countries.

According to the LA Times, "it's unknown if Purdue will continue marketing the drug to doctors outside the United States through its international arm, known as Mundipharma."

A Purdue spokesman told the newspaper that Purdue is an independent company operating in the U.S. and that the companies under the Mundipharma wing "operate under different leadership structures, within distinct regulatory environments."

But Dr. Andrew Kolodny, a Brandeis University researcher and critic of pharma's role in the epidemic, told the Times that Mundipharma is using the same playbook abroad that Purdue used in this country to increase prescriptions.

"If it takes off the way it did in the United States," he said, "these other countries will be dealing with the same problem we are dealing with today."

Start Your New Path to Sobriety Today!

    • Please enter your name.
    • This isn't a valid phone number.
    • Please enter your email address.
      This isn't a valid email address.
    • Please make a selection.
    • Please enter a message.