Purdue Pharma announced that it will be cutting OxyContin sales staff in an effort to stop promoting the drug to prescribers and pharmacies in the U.S. The company has been accused of using controversial marketing practices that falsely represent the drug as “safer” than its narcotic counterparts.
As of 2017, drug overdoses have become the leading cause of death for people under the age of 50. This has prompted a number of lawsuits targeting companies like Purdue Pharma for profiting off of a drug that can give way to addiction.
OxyContin is an extremely powerful narcotic pain reliever that has been widely abused–leading to a large number of overdose deaths throughout the U.S. In 2007 Purdue Pharma, the makers of the drug, were forced to pay a $634 million settlement to the state of Kentucky and other entities for misleading doctors and patients as to the actual dangers of OxyContin. The last decade has seen a number of similar lawsuits alleging that the company continued to sell excessive amounts of the drug to pharmacies in areas with high rates of addiction and reported overdose deaths.
The lawsuits are increasing as a result of the profound financial and personal losses being experienced by states across the country. Alabama joined the fight against the pharmaceutical company last Tuesday, claiming that Purdue consciously contributed to the current opioid crisis by means of deceptive marketing and overzealous sales.
USA Today reports that the medical director for the Center for Network Therapy Detox, Indra Cidambi, fears that the sudden drop in OxyContin availability could lead to more dangerous counterfeit pills. Cidambi acknowledges that Purdue’s actions are a step in the right direction—but that it may be too little too late.
“The decision by a manufacturer to stop pushing opioid pain medications is late, but better late than never,” Cidambi said. “Even if we save one life due to this decision, it is worth it.”
Purdue has denied allegations of deceptive marketing, claiming that prescription painkillers only account for a small percentage of reported overdose deaths. The company will only retain 200 reps dedicated to the sale of non-narcotic medications.
Monica Kwarcinski, Purdue’s head of medical affairs, released a statement to prescribing physicians and media outlets describing some of the company’s changes.
“Effective Monday, February 12, 2018, our field sales organization will no longer be visiting your offices to engage you in discussions about our opioid products,” Kwarcinski wrote.
“Requests for information about our opioid products will be handled through direct communication with the highly experienced health care professionals that comprise our Medical Affairs department.”
This announcement has been met with a number of mixed results. Many fear that the lack of available OxyContin will create a higher demand for Fentanyl, heroin, and other unpredictable opioids that often contribute to overdose deaths. Others believe that Purdue is only doing this in an attempt to separate themselves from further liability and to stave off financial losses incurred by the numerous lawsuits.
The epidemic of addiction in America is being hailed as one of the worst in the history of the country. The availability of prescription drugs has created a path to illegal narcotics for many who become addicted while in the care of a trusted physician. Purdue’s efforts may the first of many for drug companies joining the fight to remove another gateway to substance abuse and chemical dependency.