Purdue Pharma on Saturday said it will stop marketing OxyContin and other opioids to doctors after facing increased scrutiny over the company's promotion tactics for the drug.
Purdue's decision comes as more than 12 states and about 400 U.S. cities and counties have filed lawsuits against the company and other opioid drugmakers, alleging the companies misrepresented the risks of opioids and fueled the U.S. opioid misuse epidemic. In addition, Purdue in October 2017 announced that it is the subject of a federal investigation related to OxyContin. The company said it is cooperating with the probe by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Connecticut, where the company is based.
In 2007, Purdue and three of the company's executives pleaded guilty in federal court to criminal charges of misleading the public about OxyContin's addictive qualities. Purdue under the guilty plea admitted to falsely claiming that, when compared with other pain medications, OxyContin was less addictive, likely to cause withdrawal symptoms, and subject to misuse.
Purdue says it will stop marketing opioids to physicians
Purdue on Saturday said it has "restructured and significantly reduced [its] commercial operation and will no longer be promoting opioids to prescribers." Purdue said it will continue to sell opioids, but the company's sales force "will no longer be visiting offices to engage in discussions about opioid products."
Instead, Purdue said physicians and prescribers who have questions regarding the company's opioids will have to contact the company's medical affairs department. Purdue said it is notifying doctors on Monday that the company's sales representatives will stop visiting them to discuss the company's opioid products.
According to the Los Angeles Times, it is not known whether Purdue will continue to market opioids to doctors outside of the United States.
Andrew Kolodny, a researcher at Brandeis University, applauded the move, but said "[i]t's pretty late in the game to have a major impact." Kolodny said it remains to be seen whether other opioid makers will agree to no longer market opioids to doctors. He added, "We would have more success in encouraging cautious prescribing if drug companies stopped promoting aggressive prescribing."
Nabarun Dasgupta, a researcher at the University of North Carolina who previously advised federal health authorities and the World Health Organization on prescription opioid misuse, said, "Doctors are not robots—they are part of a system that influences their behavior." Dasgupta added, "It's those structural incentives to prescribe one drug over another that are more arcane and more hidden and don't generate the same level of public alarm" (Whalen, Wall Street Journal, 2/10; Finkle et al., Reuters, 2/10; Poston, Los Angeles Times, 2/10; E Deprez, Bloomberg, 10/25/17).
Next: How to combat the opioid epidemic
Opioid misuse and abuse is one of the most pressing public health issues in the U.S., and hospitals and health systems are on the front lines. Currently, most health systems focus their opioid management efforts on select medical specialties.
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