End of an era: Purdue to stop marketing opioids to doctors


State lawsuits against Purdue have mounted in recent months as governments at all levels have struggled to combat the opioid epidemic - much of which, experts say, was caused by excessive prescription of powerful painkillers like OxyContin. In a release yesterday, the drug maker said it had reduced its sales force by more than half to about 200 positions.

Doctors with opioid-related questions will be directed to its medical affairs department. Instead, the company said it will direct prescribers to materials published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the office of the US surgeon general.

OxyContin has always been the world's top-selling opioid painkiller.

He said Purdue's decision is helpful, but it won't make a major difference unless other opioid drug companies do the same.

Dozens of lawsuits across the country allege Purdue Pharma launched a fraudulent marketing scheme to boost sales of OxyContin in the late 1990s that downplayed the risks for addiction from pain medication.

The FDA even approved a package insert for OxyContin, announcing the drug was safer than rival painkillers because the delayed-absorption mechanism was "believed to reduce the abuse liability".

"The genie is already out of the bottle", said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, director of opioid policy research at Brandeis University and an advocate for stronger regulation of opioid drug companies.

"We manufacture prescription opioids", reads one of the ads.

At least 14 states have sued privately held Purdue.

Purdue and three former executives pleaded guilty in federal court a decade ago to criminal charges of misleading the public about the addictive nature of OxyContin, paying more than $630 million in fines and penalties. Other lawsuits remain, and a key demand in the remaining lawsuits was that Purdue Pharma drop its direct marketing efforts for pain medications. Costs of opioid addiction to the US economy have been estimated to be as high as $78.5 billion.