OxyCon­tin maker will stop pro­mot­ing opi­oids to doc­tors

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - NATION | WORLD - BY MARLEY JAY AND MATT PERRONE As­so­ci­ated Press

NEW YORK — The maker of the pow­er­ful painkiller OxyCon­tin said it will stop mar­ket­ing opi­oid drugs to doc­tors, bow­ing to a key de­mand of law­suits that blame the com­pany for help­ing trig­ger the cur­rent drug abuse epi­demic.

OxyCon­tin has long been the world’s top- sell­ing opi­oid painkiller, bring­ing in bil­lions in sales for pri­vately-held Pur­due, which also sells a newer and longer-last­ing opi­oid drug called Hys­ingla.

The com­pany an­nounced its sur­prise re­ver­sal on Satur­day. Pur­due’s state­ment said it elim­i­nated more than half its sales staff this week and will no longer send sales rep­re­sen­ta­tives to doc­tors’ of­fices to dis­cuss opi­oid drugs. Its re­main­ing sales staff of about 200 will fo­cus on other med­i­ca­tions.

The OxyCon­tin pill, a time-re­lease ver­sion of oxy­codone, was hailed as a break­through treat­ment for chronic pain when it was ap­proved in late 1995. It worked over 12 hours to main­tain a steady level of oxy­codone in pa­tients suf­fer­ing from a wide range of pain ail­ments. But some users quickly dis­cov­ered they could get a heroin-like high by crush­ing the pills and snort­ing or in­ject­ing the en­tire dose at once. In 2010 Pur­due re­for­mu­lated OxyCon­tin to make it harder to crush and stopped sell­ing the orig­i­nal form of the drug.

Pur­due even­tu­ally ac­knowl­edged that its pro­mo­tions ex­ag­ger­ated the drug’s safety and min­i­mized the risks of ad­dic­tion. Af­ter fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tions, the com­pany and three ex­ec­u­tives pleaded guilty in 2007 and agreed to pay more than $600 mil­lion for mis­lead­ing the pub­lic about the risks of OxyCon­tin. But the drug con­tin­ued to rack up block­buster sales.

Dr. An­drew Kolodny, di­rec­tor of opi­oid pol­icy re­search at Bran­deis Uni­ver­sity and an ad­vo­cate for stronger reg­u­la­tion of opi­oid drug com­pa­nies, said Pur­due’s de­ci­sion is help­ful, but it won’t make a ma­jor dif­fer­ence un­less other opi­oid drug com­pa­nies do the same.

“It is dif­fi­cult to pro­mote more cau­tious pre­scrib­ing to the med­i­cal com­mu­nity be­cause opi­oid man­u­fac­tur­ers pro­mote opi­oid use,” he said.

Al­ler­gan, which makes three opi­oid pain med­i­ca­tions, said it has not ac­tively mar­keted those drugs in years, and Janssen Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, a unit of John­son & John­son, said it stopped mar­ket­ing the med­i­ca­tions in 2015. Both said opi­oid drugs make up a very small por­tion of their to­tal rev­enue. An­other drug­maker, In­sys, said it was not able to com­ment im­me­di­ately, while Teva Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal In­dus­tries did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

Kolodny said that opi­oids are use­ful for can­cer pa­tients who are suf­fer­ing from se­vere pain, and for peo­ple who only need a pain med­i­ca­tion for a few days. But he said the com­pa­nies have pro­moted them as a treat­ment for chronic pain, where they are more harm­ful and less help­ful, be­cause it’s more prof­itable.

“They are still do­ing this abroad,” Kolodny added. “They are fol­low­ing the same play­book that they used in the United States.”

[AP FILE PHOTO]

A bunch of OxyCon­tin pills are ar­ranged for a photo at a phar­macy in Mont­pe­lier, Vt.

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