OxyContin Maker Stops Promoting Opioids, Cuts Sales Staff

Purdue Pharma has been a lightning-rod for criticism and lawsuits

OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma LP says it has cut its sales force in half and will stop promoting opioids to physicians following widespread criticism of the ways that drug makers market addictive painkillers, Reuters reported.

The drug maker is informing doctors that its sales representatives will no longer visit physician offices to discuss its opioid products. It will now have about 200 sales representatives, Purdue said. “We have restructured and significantly reduced our commercial operation and will no longer be promoting opioids to prescribers,” the Stamford, Connecticut-based company said in a statement quoted by Reuters.

Doctors with opioid-related questions will be directed to its medical affairs department. Its sales representatives will now focus on naldemedine (Symproic), a drug for treating opioid-induced constipation, and other potential nonopioid products, Purdue said.

Opioids were involved in more than 42,000 overdose deaths in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Among other opioid producers, Endo International PLC agreed in July 2017 to pull its Opana ER painkiller after the FDA called for its withdrawal.

Purdue and other drugmakers have been fighting lawsuits by states, counties, and cities that have accused them of pushing addictive painkillers through deceptive marketing. The lawsuits have generally accused Purdue of downplaying OxyContin’s addiction risk and of misleading marketing that overstated the benefits of opioids for treating chronic, rather than short-term, pain.

At least 14 states have sued privately held Purdue. Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall filed a lawsuit on February 6 accusing Purdue of deceptively marketing prescription opioids. Purdue is also facing a federal investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Connecticut.

Purdue has denied the allegations in the various lawsuits. It has said its drugs are approved by the FDA and account for only 2% of all opioid prescriptions.

Purdue and three executives pleaded guilty in 2007 to federal charges related to the misbranding of OxyContin and agreed to pay $634.5 million to resolve a U.S. Justice Department probe. That year, Purdue also reached a $19.5-million settlement with 26 states and the District of Columbia. It agreed in 2015 to pay $24 million to resolve a lawsuit by Kentucky.

Source: Reuters; February 10, 2018.