Purdue Pharma, the drug company behind the opioid OxyContin, recently announced that they will stop promoting their product to doctors in the United States.
In a message to employees, Purdue said that it is cutting the company’s sales force down to 200 workers, less than half of its previous total.
Over the years, Purdue’s sales tactics have included stuffed toys, fishing hats, and OxyContin Music. These efforts have placed the drug manufacturer at the forefront of the aggressive sales tactics used by pharmaceutical companies throughout the United States. In 2017, sales of this product generated $1.8 billion for the drug manufacturer, approximately $1 billion less than they made five years ago now that cheaper generic options are on the market.
Over the past two-plus decades, Purdue marketed their product as a safe and effective way to treat pain, which led to doctors prescribing and overprescribing OxyContin, as well as other opioids, because they felt there was minimal risk of serious negative side effects.
Obviously, these claims have been disproven. In the 2015 Annual Review of Public Health, several public health experts broke down Purdue’s role in creating and perpetuating the current opioid epidemic affecting millions of Americans today:
"Between 1996 and 2002, Purdue Pharma funded more than 20,000 pain-related educational programs through direct sponsorship or financial grants and launched a multifaceted campaign to encourage long-term use of [opioid painkillers] for chronic non-cancer pain. As part of this campaign, Purdue provided financial support to the American Pain Society, the American Academy of Pain Medicine, the Federation of State Medical Boards, the Joint Commission, pain client groups, and other organizations. In turn, these groups all advocated for more aggressive identification and treatment of pain, especially use of [opioid painkillers]."
A key part of the company’s marketing strategy revolved around convincing doctors that their reluctance to prescribe their product was based on an outdated notion that opioids could be incredibly dangerous and addictive. Other companies like Abbott Laboratories, Teva, and Endo also carried out similar marketing campaigns.
On top of the issues around marketing a highly addictive product as safe for general use, an investigation by LA Times reporters Harriet Ryan, Lisa Girion, and Scott Glover found that Purdue’s claim that their product could provide patients with 12 hours of pain relief was simply not true.
"Even before OxyContin went on the market, clinical trials showed many patients weren’t getting 12 hours of relief. Since the drug’s debut in 1996, the company has been confronted with additional evidence, including complaints from doctors, reports from its own sales reps and independent research."
While Purdue announced that they will no longer market their product to doctors in the United States, there is no word about what the international marketing arm will do moving forwards.
"If it takes off the way it did in the United States, these other countries will be dealing with the same problem we are dealing with today,” Brandeis University researcher Dr. Andrew Kolodny said in an interview with the LA Times."
Cutting off the marketing efforts also doesn’t change the fact that hundreds of thousands of people have already died from opioid overdoses in the past few decades and the tens of millions more are suffering from addiction.
"The genie is already out of the bottle," Kolodny said. "Millions of Americans are now opioid-addicted because the campaign that Purdue and other opioid manufacturers used to increase prescribing worked well. And as the prescribing went up, it led to a severe epidemic of opioid addiction."
The fight to combat the opioid epidemic is an ongoing struggle that shows no signs of slowing down in the near future. Big Pharma has caused catastrophic damage to the lives of tens of millions of Americans and their families, and thousands continue to die every year because of these drugs. It’s going to take far more than a simple change to a marketing strategy to begin reversing the overwhelming tide of prescription painkillers sweeping across the nation, and companies like Purdue need to do more than simply not push their drugs into prescription bottles around the United States.
At Turning Point, our staff members have dedicated their careers to helping our patients overcome their addiction while also providing their loved ones with the knowledge and resources they need to help facilitate this process. Understanding how addiction affects people is a key step towards breaking down the widely spread misconceptions that addiction is a moral failing and not a physical condition, and we are committed to helping those struggling with opioids, as well as other substances, regain control of their lives. Give us a call at (973) 380-0905 to learn more about what we can do to help, or fill out our online form with your information to take the first step on your recovery process today.