Oxycontin maker Purdue Pharma will stop promoting opioids to physicians

Kristoffer Tripplaar via NBC News

Kristoffer Tripplaar via NBC News

Purdue Pharma will no longer target US doctors in its efforts to sell OxyContin, a prescription opioid whose overprescription fueled America's opioid crisis - and made billions for Purdue's founding family. Accordingly, the company has laid off more than 50 percent of its sales force, with the remaining employees focusing on non-opioid products.

"We have restructured and significantly reduced our commercial operation and will no longer be promoting opioids to prescribers", representatives of Purdue Pharma said in a statement to Bloomberg Friday evening. "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".

Up to one in four people who received prescriptions for opioid drugs such as OxyContin struggle with opioid addiction, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. Sales of OxyContin and other opioids have fallen recently amid pressure from regulators, insurers, and the general public.

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".

He said Purdue's decision is helpful, but it won't make a major difference unless other opioid drug companies do the same. Opioid litigation increased sharply in 2017 when hundreds of cities, counties and states sued opioid makers, wholesalers, distributors and marketers.

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Eventually, Purdue acknowledged that its promotions exaggerated the drug's safety and minimized the risks of addiction.

Purdue has denied the allegations in the various lawsuits.

"We would have more success in encouraging cautious prescribing if drug companies stopped promoting aggressive prescribing", he told the Times.

Purdue first introduced Oxycontin in 1985. It agreed in 2015 to pay $24 million to resolve a lawsuit by Kentucky. Costs of opioid addiction to the USA economy have been estimated to be as high as $78.5 billion.

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