Purdue Pharma Looks at Pivoting to Addiction Medications
Hundreds of thousands dead. Countless other lives derailed by an addiction that refused to break. This is the story of the opioid epidemic in America—and too many of us are personally familiar with the pain it brings when it strikes. For those affected, things may never be the same. Opioids hit communities indiscriminately, affecting Americans young and old, and often resulting in an overdose that led to the loss of life.
Yet, one of the companies involved in selling doctors on new pain medication techniques and subsequently supplying enormous amounts of these opioids to pharmacies is now looking to turn a profit from the mayhem they began. In a time where families are looking for justice, they are instead seeing the company turn their back on the problem they helped create, and rake in more sales from the very people they’ve hurt.
Purdue Pharma and the Opioid Epidemic
OxyContin came onto the scene around 20 years ago thanks to worries about popular painkillers like Vicodin combined with the opportunistic and aggressive marketing by Purdue Pharma. Even from the start, the company sidled around regulations, claiming the drug lasted for 12 hours despite evidence to the contrary from their own studies.
They began getting pushback far before opioid overdoses jumped to the front of the nation’s consciousness. West Virginia filed a lawsuit against the company in 2001 for its marketing and sales tactics. Purdue Pharma gave the state $10 million and moved on. The next challenge came in 2007 when the US government charged Purdue with failing to disclose the risks of addiction that came with OxyContin use. This time the company paid out $600 million and added warning labels—but they didn’t stop pushing their drugs.
Though opioid prescriptions peaked in 2012, 2016 still saw nearly 20% of our country’s population receive prescriptions for opioids. The excessive number of prescriptions drew the government’s notice. Since 2014, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has sponsored “National Prescription Take-Back Day” to reduce the number of unused opioids that flowed from family homes to desperate users. However, the so-called “high prescribers” that Purdue Pharma’s marketing team had been targeting flooded their patients with opioids, keeping supply relatively high.
Addiction rates continued to rise, especially among rural communities—the places that, trends had shown, had some of the highest prescription rates. Purdue Pharma looked the other way and continued selling billions of dollars worth of opioids each year, paying out huge bonuses, and working to weaken the DEA’s oversight powers. In 2016, around 70,000 Americans died of overdose. Nearly 50,000 of them had overdosed on opioids.
More Addiction, Higher Profits
With addiction rates skyrocketing, cities, states, and addiction treatment providers were looking for options. The proliferation of harm reduction methods—attempts to help those struggling through addiction be safer and begin their path to recovery—led to the establishment of needle exchanges and wider adoption of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) methods.
One of the most popular drugs for MAT is buprenorphine, a slow-acting opioid that controls cravings, helping opioid users lessen the intensity of withdrawal symptoms. Though it’s very unlikely to cause addiction itself because it doesn’t provide much of a high, buprenorphine’s sale and use is still tightly regulated. Purdue Pharma added yet another roadblock for users trying to access the drug: after being awarded a patent for a new version of buprenorphine, they sued another drug company, Indivior, for creating and selling a similar product. This was despite the fact that they had not even developed a competing product—they just didn’t want anyone else to offer anything similar to their idea.
It’s hard to think of a reason for this choice that doesn’t involve Purdue Pharma profiting off the very addictions they helped create, or wanting to prolong addiction in hopes of selling more product. In fact, internal emails show that the company had long been exploring the idea of selling medications that assist with addiction recovery. That way they could make a nice profit from the OxyContin that could lead to addiction….and then target high-prescribing doctors with drugs to help people with their recovery.
Facing Legal Consequences
State Attorney Generals, counties, cities, tribes, and individuals have all filed suit against Purdue Pharma for their part in promoting opioid use even after they knew the drugs were being used irresponsibly. Plaintiffs accuse the pharmaceutical company of misrepresenting its products. Pitched as “less addictive” than other painkillers, sales reps carved out a place in the market by targeting specific doctors to push prescriptions wherever possible. They may have even lied about OxyContin’s effectiveness and its high potential for addiction.
Even more damning information has surfaced as the lawsuits progress: about the company’s blatant disregard for the addiction epidemic their drugs had helped spark; about their covert collaboration with other pharmaceutical companies to create advocacy groups that championed the use of opioids for pain treatment; about huge payouts to the Sacklers, who own Purdue Pharma, between 2008 and 2016.
The Sacklers and Purdue Pharma have since made a settlement offer that involves a multi-billion dollar payout, a complete restructuring of the company, the resignation of the Sacklers from the company, and free access to the addiction drugs it is currently developing. But, is that enough to make up for the damage they have done?
We Help You Fight Addiction
News broke in early September that lawyers for the plaintiffs were unable to come to a settlement with Purdue Pharma, and that the company would likely file for bankruptcy. This would make it more difficult for those hurt by the company’s reckless actions to receive much-needed compensation. It remains to be seen how the situation will play out…but while all affected parties await redress, we continue to work day-in and day-out to help people along the road of recovery.
If you or a loved one has struggled with addiction to opioids or other subjects, don’t be ashamed. Many other Americans have gone down the same path, and come out on the other side. For as long as corrupt pharmaceutical companies continue to promote dangerous drugs, we will be here to offer healthy alternatives to managing mental health and substance use issues.
Call us today or reach out online if you’re looking for help.