New Details About Marketing of OxyContin
Written by Editor   
Tuesday, February 05, 2019 12:15 PM

lawsuit filed by the state of Massachusetts against the drug maker Purdue Pharma alleges that the company, the Sackler family (whose members have long constituted the majority of Purdue board members), and other company executives, misled prescribers and patients as they aimed to blanket the country with prescriptions for their addictive medications.  

As questions were raised about the risk of addiction and overdoses that came with taking OxyContin and opioid medications, Richard Sackler outlined a strategy that critics have long accused the company of unleashing: divert the blame onto others, particularly the people who became addicted to opioids themselves.  Sackler claimed that Purdue’s drugs shouldn’t need a legally mandated warning. He wrote in an email cited in the complaint that the warning “implies a danger of untoward reactions and hazards that simply aren’t there.”

The Massachusetts complaint sketches an image of the Sacklers, as board members, exercising tight control over the company, overseeing the deployment of a phalanx of sales representatives who were pushed to get Purdue medications into more hands, at higher doses, and for longer periods of time. The Sacklers, the complaint states, reaped “billion of dollars,” even as the company blurred the risks of addiction and overdose that came with the drugs.  

Sackler, who was named president of the company in 1999 before becoming co-chairman in 2003, is singled out in the complaint as particularly domineering as he demanded greater sales. In 2011, he decided to shadow sales reps for a week “to make sure his orders were followed,” the complaint states. Sales managers were badgered on nights, weekends, and holidays, according to the filing. The marketing campaigns focused on high-volume doctors, who were visited repeatedly by salespeople, and pushed doctors to prescribe high doses.

The complaint also accuses Purdue of rarely reporting allegedly illegal activity, such as improper prescribing, to government officials when it learned about it. In one 2009 case, a Purdue sales manager wrote to a company official that Purdue was promoting opioids to an illegal pill mill.

The state’s suit focuses on Purdue’s actions since 2007, when the company and three current and former executives pleaded guilty in federal court to fraudulently marketing OxyContin and the company agreed to pay $600 million in fines. The case is separate from litigation being waged by STAT to obtain sealed Purdue documents in Kentucky, including the only known deposition of Richard Sackler, about the company’s marketing practices in earlier years, which have been blamed for seeding the current opioid addiction crisis.

The state’s lawsuit concludes: “The opioid epidemic is not a mystery to the people who started it. The defendants knew what they were doing.”  

In September 2017 Purdue’s CEO, jotted down a note summarizing some of the roots of the opioid crisis. It reads:

“There are:
Too many Rxs being written
Too high a dose
For too long
For conditions that often don’t require them
By doctors who lack the requisite training in how to use them appropriately.”