Opioid Drug Maker Purdue Pharma Had Some Ethics Problems

Recently released documents from the ongoing lawsuit against OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma show a worrying lack of ethics in regards to the way the company and its controlling family marketed the addictive painkiller and hid those addictions from doctors and insurance companies.
A new report by Ars Technica paints a picture of the Sackler family, who is one of Purdue Pharma’s largest shareholders and who sits on the company’s board of directors, taking drastic action to keep their profits flowing at the expense of the patients being harmed by OxyContin’s addictive properties. According to the released documents, Purdue Pharma and the Sacklers:

  • Pushed for the marketing of larger, and thus more addictive, doses of OxyContin.
  • Increased the sales force marketing the drug to doctors on several occasions.
  • Expanded discounts on OxyContin because data showed making the drug cheaper often led to patients staying on the drug far longer.
  • Worked on secretive plans to begin moving into opioid addiction treatment when they knew the opioid drugs they were marketing were addictive. (The company had long denied its drugs were addictive!)
  • Considered dropping health insurance company Cigna as the provider of Purdue Pharma’s company health plan after Cigna cut OxyContin in favor of a rival drug from another health company.

The article detailing these new details had one final kicker: In 2012, at least one employee of Purdue Pharma raised alarms about doctors overprescribing OxyContin:

“…it seems to make sense for a number of reasons for us to share the information on Region 0 doctors with payers. At a basic level, it just seems like the right and ethical thing to do. Doing so could help those companies identify those physicians that may be of a concern, not just with respect to our products, but also other CII and CIII therapies. As a result, if it reduces abuse and diversion of opioids then it seems like something we should be doing.”

Apparently, that employee no longer worked for Purdue Pharma just a month later.
Opioid addiction has been considered a major health epidemic in the United States, and now, as we get a look behind the scenes, we are increasingly seeing that the companies making these addictive drugs sometimes had deceptive motives in the way they sold them and in the ways they planned to addressed and even profit from increased concerns of patient addiction.