More than a decade after Purdue Pharma was first criticized by the federal government for its “aggressive” marketing of the addictive painkiller OxyContin, the company says it will stop promoting the opioid to doctors.
The company told CNN on Sunday that it has cut its sales force in half to 200 representatives and will turn its focus to marketing non-opioid drugs. The news was reported earlier by Bloomberg.
Purdue will continue to sell OxyContin, but sales reps will no longer visit doctors’ offices to promote the drug.
For the past couple of years Purdue has routinely directed doctors to the CDC’s “Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain,” the company said.
Opioids, a class of pharmaceuticals that include prescription pain killers like OxyContin as well as illicit drugs like heroin and fentanyl, are at the root of an ongoing public health crisis in America.
In 2016, there were 42,249 opioid-linked drug fatalities in the U.S. — more than the number of deaths linked to breast cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The opioid crisis has raised significant concern about prescription painkillers. Between 1999 and 2009, overdoses from such drugs rose about 13% annually, though the increase has since slowed to 3% per year.
Sales of OxyContin, which is a long-acting version of the drug oxycodone that was designed to deliver medicine over 12 hours, grew rapidly after it hit the market in 1996.
Reports about OxyContin abuse began to surface by early 2000, according to a 2003 government report.
The Drug Enforcement Administration “expressed concern that Purdue’s aggressive marketing of OxyContin focused on promoting the drug to treat a wide range of conditions to physicians who may not have been adequately trained in pain management,” the report states.
Purdue collaborated with the Food and Drug Administration on a “risk management plan” aimed at preventing abuse of the drug, according to the report.
Then, in 2007, the federal government brought criminal charges against Purdue for misleadingly advertising OxyContin as less addictive than other opioids. Purdue and three executives pleaded guilty and agreed to pay $634.5 million in civil and criminal fines.
Purdue says it has since been involved in various measures to curb opioid addiction. In 2010, the firm released a new version of OxyContin that is more difficult to crush — and therefore more difficult to abuse by snorting or injecting it.