The opioid epidemic is being called the worst public health crisis in American history, with its lethal consequences exacting a toll on users and families nationwide. Eric Hargan, acting secretary of HHS spoke about the crisis at the CDC. (Dec 4)
The pharmaceutical company that produces the painkiller OxyContin is slashing its sales staff and says it will halt, effective Monday, promotion of opioids to physicians and other health care professionals.
The decision by Purdue Pharma comes as the industry battles an avalanche of lawsuits across the nation related to an epidemic of opioid abuse.
“We have restructured and significantly reduced our commercial operation and will no longer be promoting opioids to prescribers,” Purdue Pharma said in a statement.
Indra Cidambi, medical director at the Center for Network Therapy detox program in New Jersey and nationally recognized authority on opioid abuse, said she was encouraged by Purdue’s announcement. But she warned that tightening the prescription supply already has illegal drug dealers turning out more pills that look like branded prescription meds but can be even more dangerous.
“The decision by a manufacturer to stop pushing opioid pain medications is late, but better late than never,” Cidambi told USA TODAY. “Even if we save one life due to this decision, it is worth it.”
Purdue’s head of medical affairs, Monica Kwarcinski, sent a letter to prescribers updating the company’s efforts to support responsible opioid use.
“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 the letter, which was released to media outlets. “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.”
Purdue said in a statement that it is reducing its sales force by more than 50%. The remaining 200 sales reps will focus on non-opioid drugs such as Symproic, the company said. Symproic is used to treat opioid-related constipation.
The company said it has consistently followed opioid guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control, which include a recommendation that opioids not be the first option for chronic pain.
Purdue, a privately held company based in Stamford, Conn., has been slammed with lawsuits claiming the company has downplayed OxyContin’s addiction risk. Opioid litigation increased sharply in 2017 when hundreds of cities, counties and states sued opioid makers, wholesalers, distributors and marketers.
The lawsuits accuse the companies of, among other things, misleading prescribers and the public by marketing opioids as a safe substitute for non-addictive pain medications such as ibuprofen. Opioids also have been blamed for a resurgence in heroin use.
The government claims the results have been tragic — and left government agencies with millions in social and health care costs.
Purdue said in a statement that it “vigorously denies” allegations of misconduct, adding that its products account for only “approximately 2%” of all opioid prescriptions.
“We are deeply troubled by the opioid crisis, and we are dedicated to being part of the solution,” the company said.
Opioids are substances that work on the nervous system in the body or specific receptors in the brain to reduce the intensity of pain. The CDC says more than three out of five drug overdose deaths involve opioids — and that annual deaths from heroin and prescription opioids have increased more than five-fold since 1999, including 42,000 deaths in 2016.
Purdue and three former executives pleaded guilty in federal court a decade ago to criminal charges of misleading the public about the addictive nature of OxyContin, paying more than $630 million in fines and penalties.