Early this week, pharmaceutical giant Purdue Pharma announced that it would stop marketing opioid painkillers to doctors. For years, Purdue has barraged the nation’s doctors offices with salespeople, armed with pamphlets containing misleading information about the dangers and addictive potential of their opioid medications. While Purdue makes other prescription drugs like fentanyl and codeine, the company is most well known for manufacturing OxyContin.
OxyContin is a dangerous and highly addictive painkiller comprised almost entirely of Oxycodone, an opioid analgesic that is molecularly similar to heroin. Doctors’ liberal prescription of opioid drugs like OxyContin has been one of the main drivers behind what is commonly known as the opioid crisis—an unprecedented epidemic of opioid drug addiction and overdose deaths. Drug overdoses are currently the leading cause of accidental death in the United States.
Purdue has long been known for its aggressive and wildly misleading marketing campaigns, calling to mind the deceptive tobacco industry ads of the past. The Sackler family, the owners of Purdue and one of the wealthiest families in America, previously owned medical journals and an advertising agency, both of which they used to sell their products. This was widely seen as unethical, and a blatant conflict of interest.
In the 1990’s, Purdue commonly advertised its prescription painkillers by handing out pamphlets and paying for advertisements that falsely proclaimed that roughly 1 percent of opioid users develop an addiction. In 2007, the pharmaceutical company was finally taken to court and charged for their deceptive marketing tactics. As a result of the lawsuit, Purdue paid out roughly $600 million in legal fines. This number represents only a small fraction of the approximately $35 billion dollars that Oxycontin has made for Purdue.
The company is also currently being sued by over 400 cities, including New York City, and the city of Philadelphia. The state of Delaware is also currently suing Purdue. The city of Chicago sued Purdue for similar reasons in 2014.
Many experts consider Purdue’s prolific marketing campaign to sell these drugs to be one of the primary drivers of the opioid crisis. The number of lives claimed by these drugs is staggering: OxyContin and other prescription opioids are responsible for roughly two hundred thousand deaths in the United States in the last two decades.
While the lawsuits against the company are still active, Purdue’s decision to discontinue this marketing campaign is a small victory for their opponents.
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