After years of criticism and hundreds of lawsuits, Purdue Pharma LP has announced that it will no longer market OxyContin directly to doctors. Representatives for Purdue claim that their decision reflected an effort to combat the growing American opioid epidemic, but for the millions of Americans struggling with opioid addiction, this move is too little, too late.
In early February 2018, Purdue Pharma issued a statement to employees informing them that the company would be cutting their sales force by more than half. They also announced that salespeople will no longer meet with doctors to talk about the company’s opioid painkillers.
While these are indeed positive steps in combating the over-prescription of OxyContin, it’s important to remember that Purdue is widely credited with developing these hyper-aggressive marketing tactics in the first place.
Oxycontin and the U.S. Opioid Epidemic
The root cause of the opioid epidemic can be traced back to 1996, the year OxyContin first emerged on the U.S market. Beginning in the late 1990s, the number of fatal drug overdoses begin to climb at a shocking rate. A large percentage of these deaths were caused by prescription opioid abuse.
In 2016, more than 60,000 people died from a drug overdose. Of these deaths, roughly 20,000 involved synthetic opioid drugs. That’s a nearly sevenfold increase from 2013, a year where synthetic opioids claimed the lives of some 3,105 individuals, according to the CDC.
Purdue’s Use of Misleading Marketing
Purdue’s decision to stop marketing opioid painkillers stems from a number of lawsuits claiming that the drug manufacturer knowingly misled the public about how dangerous OxyContin really is.
Between 1996 and 2002, Purdue bankrolled more than 20,000 educational programs designed to encourage the use of OxyContin as a way to treat long-term chronic pain. This marketing campaign targeted groups such as the American Pain Society, the Federation of State Medical Boards, the American Academy of Pain Medicine as well as numerous pain patient groups.
As a result, these organizations all began to advocate the aggressive use of opioids to treat chronic pain.
In spite of the claims made by drug manufacturers, there is no scientific evidence that drugs like OxyContin are effective in managing chronic pain over a period of years. Tolerance to the effects of opioid drugs develops rapidly, and once patients begin upping their doses, dependence and addiction follow close behind.
Too Little, Too Late
Purdue’s decision to stop marketing OxyContin in 2018 is similar to an arsonist deciding to stop throwing gasoline on a house that’s already burned to the ground. The damage has been done.
Over the last few years, OxyContin has become less and less profitable. This is due in large part to stricter prescription guidelines, as well as growing public awareness of the drug’s dangerous potential.
However, recent research has shown that around 1 million Americans have used OxyContin at least once in their lifetime, and thousands enter OxyContin rehab programs every year. Given these numbers, it’s hard to imagine that additional marketing can make the problem much worse than it already is.
While public health experts and activist groups may celebrate Purdue’s decision to pull back their opioid marketing efforts, it’s pretty obvious that the drug maker is simply trying to rebuild its public image.
What’s Your Take?
What are your thoughts on Purdue Pharma’s decision to scale back on OxyContin marketing? If you’d like to join the conversation about these recent developments, or if you want to learn how to help someone with Oxycontin addiction, Fight Addiction Now has the resources and platforms for you to do just that. Weigh in on the comments below, or click to view our Prescription Drug Addiction Resource: