The maker of the highly effective painkiller OxyContin mentioned it will stop advertising and marketing opioid medication to doctors, bowing to a key demand of lawsuits that blame the corporate for serving to set off the present drug abuse epidemic.
OxyContin has lengthy been the world’s top-selling opioid painkiller, bringing in billions in gross sales for privately-held Purdue, which additionally sells a more moderen and longer-lasting opioid drug known as Hysingla.
The firm introduced its shock reversal on Saturday. Purdue’s assertion mentioned it eradicated greater than half its gross sales workers this week and will now not ship gross sales representatives to doctors’ workplaces to talk about opioid medication. Its remaining gross sales workers of about 200 will deal with different medicines.
The OxyContin capsule, a time-release model of oxycodone, was hailed as a breakthrough therapy for power ache when it was authorised in late 1995. It labored over 12 hours to keep a gentle stage of oxycodone in sufferers affected by a variety of ache illnesses. But some customers rapidly found they might get a heroin-like excessive by crushing the tablets and snorting or injecting the whole dose without delay. In 2010 Purdue reformulated OxyContin to make it tougher to crush and stopped promoting the unique type of the drug.
Purdue ultimately acknowledged that its promotions exaggerated the drug’s security and minimized the dangers of habit. After federal investigations, the corporate and three executives pleaded responsible in 2007 and agreed to pay greater than $600 million for deceptive the general public concerning the dangers of OxyContin. But the drug continued to rack up blockbuster gross sales.
Dr. Andrew Kolodny, director of opioid coverage analysis at Brandeis University and an advocate for stronger regulation of opioid drug companies, mentioned Purdue’s choice is useful, but it surely will not make a significant distinction until different opioid drug firms do the identical.
“It is difficult to promote more cautious prescribing to the medical community because opioid manufacturers promote opioid use,” he mentioned.
Allergan, which makes three opioid ache medicines, mentioned it has not actively marketed these medication in years, and Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a unit of Johnson & Johnson, mentioned it stopped advertising and marketing the medicines in 2015. Both mentioned opioid medication make up a really small portion of their complete income. Another drugmaker, Insys, mentioned it was not ready to remark instantly, whereas Teva Pharmaceutical Industries didn’t instantly reply to a request for remark.
Kolodny mentioned that opioids are helpful for most cancers sufferers who’re affected by extreme ache, and for individuals who solely want a ache remedy for a number of days. But he mentioned the businesses have promoted them as a therapy for power ache, the place they’re extra dangerous and fewer useful, as a result of it is extra worthwhile.
“They are still doing this abroad,” Kolodny added. “They are following the same playbook that they used in the United States.”
Purdue Pharma solely does enterprise within the U.S. It is related to two different firms, Mundipharma and Napp, that function in different international locations. It mentioned these firms have separate management and function in accordance to native rules.
Purdue and different opioid drugmakers and pharmaceutical distributors proceed defending themselves towards tons of of native and state lawsuits looking for to maintain the business accountable for the drug overdose epidemic. The lawsuits say drugmakers misled doctors and sufferers concerning the dangers of opioids by enlisting “front groups” and “key opinion leaders” who oversold the medication’ advantages and inspired overprescribing. State and native governments are looking for cash and adjustments to how the business operates, together with an finish to using outdoors teams to push their medication.
Kolodny is serving as an professional advising the courtroom in these lawsuits.
U.S. deaths linked to opioids have quadrupled since 2000 to roughly 42,000 in 2016, or about 115 lives misplaced per day. Although initially pushed by prescription drugs, most opioid deaths now contain illicit medication, together with heroin and fentanyl.
Perrone contributed to this story from Washington, D.C.