After decades of addiction and legal action, OxyContin's maker says sales staff won't visit doctors' offices to market the opioid

Photo by The Associated Press
Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin, says it will no longer market its opioid drugs with visits to doctors' offices and its halving its sales force. The move comes "after years of criticism and mounting lawsuits . . . claiming its sales practices are partly responsible for the opioid epidemic," reports Ben Poston of the Los Angeles Times.

"It's pretty late in the game to have a major impact," Brandeis University researcher Dr. Andrew Kolodny, a longtime critic of the pharmaceutical industry's role in the opioid epidemic, told Poston. "The genie is already out of the bottle. Millions of Americans are now opioid-addicted because the campaign that Purdue and other opioid manufacturers used to increase prescribing worked well. And as the prescribing went up, it led to a severe epidemic of opioid addiction." The drug went on sale in 1996; in 2007, in federal court in southwest Virginia, Purdue paid $635 million in fines to end an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Poston writes, "One remaining question is whether other opioid makers will follow suit and cease marketing the drugs to doctors, said Kolodny, executive director and co-founder of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing."

"In an attempt to stem the abuse of OxyContin, Purdue spent a decade and several hundred million dollars developing a version of the painkiller that was more difficult to snort, smoke or inject," Poston notes. "Since those 'abuse-deterrent'  pills debuted seven years ago, misuse of OxyContin has fallen and the company has touted them as proof of its efforts to end the opioid epidemic. But a study released in January 2017 found that rather than curtail deaths, the change in OxyContin contributed heavily to a surge in heroin overdoses across the country and that, as a result, there was 'no net reduction in overall overdose deaths'." States with the most OxyContin abuse rates had the largest increases in heroin deaths. Kentucky is among them.

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