Maker of Oxycontin to halt opioid promotion to doctors
- Purdue Pharma L.P., maker of Oxycontin and one of several companies under fire for aggressive marketing of prescription painkillers, said over the weekend it would no longer pitch opioids directly to doctors.
- "We have restructured and significantly reduced our commercial operation and will no longer be promoting opioids to prescribers," Purdue said in an emailed statement. The company has cut its sales force by approximately 50%, leaving about 200 staff to market non-opioid products.
- A letter going out Monday will inform physicians that field sales representatives will stop visiting doctor's offices to discuss opioid products sold by Purdue. Moving forward, any requests for information will be handled by Purdue's medical affairs team, the company said.
As the opioid epidemic has worsened, Purdue's marketing of Oxycontin (oxycodone) and the drug's powerful narcotic effect have put the privately held company at the center of scrutiny into the role pharmaceutical companies played in spurring addiction.
Purdue Pharma has made billions of dollars from sales of Oxycontin since the drug's approval in 1995. In some ways, the company's promotional strategies for the drug are intertwined with the story of how opioid painkillers came to prominence.
Several in-depth investigative efforts, including articles by the Los Angeles Times and The New Yorker, detailed how the company aggressively courted doctors to change attitudes around how opioids were prescribed to treat pain.
In recent years, as attention paid to opioid overdose deaths grew, at least a dozen U.S. states have filed lawsuits against the company, alleging deceptive marketing by Purdue intensified the epidemic. Just last week, Alabama became the latest state to challenge the company, suing over alleged violations of the state's Deceptive Trade Practices Act.
The Food and Drug Administration has stepped up its efforts as well. In a particularly high-profile action, the regulator last year demanded Endo International plc remove its extended release opioid pain medication Opana ER (oxymorphone) from the market. The drugmaker later complied and took a $20 million write-down as a result of the action.
Purdue's decision marks a significant shift, yet will likely prompt questions of why the drugmaker did not make this move sooner. The company notes that it has directed physicians to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) prescribing guidelines for nearly two years.
Still, the damage wreaked on U.S. communities by opioid overdose deaths has been clear for some years. In 2016, more than 42,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses — 40% of which involved a prescription painkiller, according to the CDC.
The Trump administration has come under criticism for its handling of the crisis. President Donald Trump declared a public health emergency last October, but didn't request new funding to support those efforts at the time. Last week, the White House announced the president intends to nominate Jim Carroll to serve as the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which oversees efforts to combat the epidemic.
The recent budget deal passed by Congress and signed by the president would allocate $6 billion in funding toward opioid and mental health treatment. Congress now has six weeks to hash out an appropriations agreement to actually deliver that funding to agencies.
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