February 13, 2018
2 min read

Purdue Pharma ceases promotion of OxyContin to doctors

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Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin, will stop promoting the drug to doctors, USA Today reported. The move comes in the wake of numerous lawsuits charging that the drug company is a major contributor to the national opioid epidemic.

Purdue reportedly released a statement on Feb. 10 that it would no longer send sales representatives to market the opioid painkiller at doctor’s offices, and that it would significantly reduce its sales force in accordance with the new policy.

The decision prompted the company to eliminate more than half of Purdue Pharma’s sales positions, leaving approximately remaining 200 sales employees to focus on marketing other medications.

In an email to Healio, Rebecca Haffajee, JD, PhD, MPH, assistant professor of health management and policy at the University of Michigan, pointed out that Purdue Pharma spent large sums of money promoting OxyContin as a non-addictive solution for chronic pain.

The company even poured millions of dollars into advocacy groups that in turn promoted the use of opioids, according to a report released by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D – Missouri).

“Given the volume of academic detailing Purdue Pharma engaged in around OxyContin and the clear links between opioid overprescribing and overdoses, Purdue does have a responsibility to cease promoting OxyContin,” Haffajee said. “According to evidence coming to light in the many opioid lawsuits, Purdue asserted to physicians over the years that Oxycontin was not addictive, despite evidence to the contrary, and appropriate for chronic pain treatment, despite a lack of evidence to support this indication. This behavior helped to fuel our opioid epidemic, and it should stop.”

USA Today quoted Monica Kwarcinski, PharmD, head of medical affairs at Purdue, as telling doctors that the company would communicate with medical professionals directly in the future.

"Effective Monday, February 12, 2018, our field sales organization will no longer be visiting your offices to engage you in discussions about our opioid products," Kwarcinski said in a letter released to the newspaper. "Requests for information about our opioid products will be handled through direct communication with the highly experienced health care professionals that comprise our Medical Affairs department."


As the opioid abuse epidemic has been a public health issue for years, Haffajee added that many physicians are already aware of the dangers posed by OxyContin and similar drugs. The decision to stop promoting the medication, she said, was 10 years too late.


“We have seen a leveling of opioid prescribing since 2010, although overall rates are still high relative to the past and to other countries,” she said. “And although opioid-related overdoses involving prescription opioids slowed from 2011 to 2015, they have again spiked in 2016. Plus, most persons overdosing on heroin or illicit fentanyl were first exposed to opioids from a prescription. It is possible that Purdue ceasing its promotion efforts to prescribers will mitigate the opioid epidemic, although the effect would have been greater a decade ago.”

To further combat the opioid epidemic, Haffajee said Purdue Pharma could launch educational campaigns, some of which have already begun under the FDA’s Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy.

“[Purdue Pharma] also could more aggressively warn on labels and advertisements about OxyContin's addictiveness and the lack of evidence supporting its efficacy for treating chronic pain and headaches, among other indications,” she said. “Finally, Purdue could take some of its billions in OxyContin sales profits and invest them into evidence-based opioid harm prevention efforts – like state-of-the-art prescription drug monitoring programs and opioid use disorder treatment programs – as a lack of funding particularly at the federal level is hampering these efforts.”

President Donald J. Trump declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency this past fall.

In 2017, the CDC attributed more than 90 deaths per day to opioid abuse.

Healio.com has reached out to Purdue Pharma but did not yet receive a response. – by Andy Polhamus


Disclosure: Haffajee reports no relevant financial disclosures.