Purdue Pharma brought a close chemical cousin of heroin, oxycodone, to the mass American market for the first time in 1995, under the name OxyContin.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and Toledo Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson have announced a plan to sue 24 opioid manufacturers and distributors for their part in creating the drug epidemic that killed more than 4,000 Ohioans in 2016. The damages potentially awarded to Toledo would help taxpayers recover the cost of treating the crisis.
Guilt, however, is not shared evenly among the 24 companies. Purdue Pharma brought a close chemical cousin of heroin, oxycodone, to the mass American market for the first time in 1995, under the name OxyContin. It is not only the most powerful and addictive opioid ever produced, it is also the best-selling.
When the drug was introduced, physicians were understandably wary of its risk of abuse, but Purdue assured them that the the drug’s delayed-release mechanism would minimize its “habit-forming” potential. The 12-hour coverage also meant patients could sleep through the night — a crucial improvement over the older opioids.
Except for roughly half the population, the effects of OxyContin wear off well before 12 hours. A recent expose by the Los Angeles Times revealed that Purdue’s own internal studies had demonstrated this, but Purdue suppressed those studies before submitting Oxycontin to the FDA for approval.
“For Purdue, the business reason for obscuring such results was clear: the claim of 12-hour relief was an invaluable marketing tool,” writes Patrick Radden Keefe in the New Yorker. “But prescribing a pill on a 12-hour schedule when, for many patients, it works for only eight, is a recipe for withdrawal, addiction, and abuse.”
Mr. Keefe’s chilling report also shows that Purdue knew exactly where “pill mill” operations were running, but rather than report these doctors to the law, Purdue was all too happy to meet the increased demand.
OxyContin generates $3 billion annually for Purdue to this day — $35 billion over its lifetime. The company is now pushing the drug, through a Purdue-related company called Mundipharma, into Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East — just like Big Tobacco did after the truth about their products got out in the U.S.
The only way our history with opioids won’t repeat itself in those countries is if Purdue is stopped. Mike Moore, the former Mississippi Attorney General, believes Purdue executives won’t be able to settle every case against them.
“There’s going to be a jury somewhere, someplace, that’s going to hit them with the largest judgment in the nation’s history,” he told the New Yorker.
That jury could be in Ohio, one of the states hardest hit by OxyContin.
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