As early as 1996 Purdue Pharma had information suggesting that OxyContin was being abused. Yet the company continued to market the long-acting drug as a less addictive type of prescription opioid.
This news was recently uncovered in a 120-page internal Justice Department report obtained by the New York Times and comes as our country continues to grapple with an exploding opioid crisis that is destroying lives undermining our social fabric. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death for Americans under 50. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdose deaths involving opioids rose to about 46,000 for the 12-month period that ended October 2017, up about 15 percent from October 2016. More than 200,000 people in the U.S. died from overdoses involving prescription opioids between 1996 and 2016. For the first time in 50 years, because of this drug epidemic, life expectancy is falling in the United States.
As opioid deaths continue to grow and this national tragedy unfolds consider for a moment that Purdue Pharma executives received early reports the pills were being crushed and snorted and stolen from pharmacies and some doctors were selling prescriptions. My home state of Florida for instance saw a “pill mill” boom in the early 2000’s and became the epicenter for the opioid epidemic. Throughout it all Purdue Pharma continued to aggressively market OxyContin and claim that its extended-release opioid painkillers were far less addictive than the ordinary kind. This claim was based on little-to-no evidence yet allowed by the FDA because the agency assumed extended-release opioids were “believed to reduce” their appeal to drug abusers, who presumably favored a more immediate high.
Purdue’s claims were utterly and completely false and still managed to make the company billions of dollars. In truth making an extended release version of OxyContin meant concentrating more narcotic into each individual pill. Opioid addicts do not typically use pills as directed but rather crush them up for snorting or injecting and the new extended release version was a junkie’s dream. Purdue’s version of a less-addictive opioid became the most sought-after drug on the street.
In testimony before Congress, Purdue Pharma executives have previously said that the company was unaware of mounting abuse of OxyContin until the early 2000’s. In 2006, federal prosecutors recommended the indictment of three individual Purdue Pharma executives on felony charges that included conspiracy to defraud the U.S. The executives pled guilty to single misdemeanor charge of misbranding drugs and were forced to pay a $635 million fine – only a fraction of the billions in profit Purdue had already made.
Not content to let Purdue Pharma and other pharmaceutical companies continue to profit and fuel the nation’s opioid epidemic, dozens of states are now investigating the major opioid manufacturers and distributors. The Muskogee and Cherokee sovereign nations, along with seven states are also suing Purdue Pharma for its part in the opioid crisis. After this recent report in the New York Times I expect the number of lawsuits to grow. Purdue Pharma has blood on its hands and must be held accountable.