Pharmaceutical companies are beginning to experience backlash amid skyrocketing rates of opioid abuse across the country. Purdue Pharma, one of the best-known companies in the prescription painkiller market, has recently announced they would stop marketing opioid medication to doctors. This move comes in response to numerous lawsuits putting blame on the company for contributing to the current opioid epidemic. For over a decade, Purdue Pharma has aggressively pushed sales of opioid drugs, specifically OxyContin. Now, the company is aiming to cut more than 50 percent of their sales team, leaving approximately 200 people in the department.
Purdue generated nearly two billion dollars in sales in 2017, which is still one billion shy of its 2013 record. Many who criticize the company attribute the overprescribing of OxyContin to their aggressive sales. Millions of dollars were invested into advertising the drug in medical journals and sending reps into doctor’s offices. As a result, many say these tactics played a significant role in the over-prescribing of opioids.
In 2007, Purdue Pharma was fined $634.5 million for misleading the public about the addictive nature of the painkiller. In spite of the former president and former chief medical pleading guilty to mislabeling the drug, being placed of three years of probation and ordered to perform hundreds of hours of community service, the company pushed on by attempting to rebrand themselves as an advocate for ending the crisis. In the background, Purdue Pharma continued to push sales aggressively, even citing nurses and physician assistants as “high-value targets” due to their influence on primary care. Sales continue to rise dramatically in the coming years.
Over the course of the past year, several states have named Purdue Pharma in lawsuits, citing the company as an exacerbating factor in the current crisis. Reports from the National Institute on Drug Abuse indicate that the United States is the largest consumer of prescription opioids and studies from the White House Council of Economic Advisors estimate that this crisis has cost the country approximately $504 billion. These costs are largely due to the cost of medical care, lost worker productivity, and criminal justice spending.
Purdue Pharma continues to deny allegations of their involvement in the crisis citing that these drugs are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Instead, Purdue Pharma advocates that there must be a balance between making FDA-approved medications available to the public while simultaneously addressing the public health crisis. While lawsuits continue to move forward, many are turning their sights towards how the current epidemic can be best addressed. Many estimate it will take years to undo the damage inflicted upon the community and are looking to hold this company liable for it.