A new confidential Justice Department report that was leaked shows that Purdue Pharma knew all along Oxycontin was being abused by users shortly after it was released in the late '90s.
Purdue Pharma had long maintained that it was not aware of the addictive nature of Oxycontin until many years later.
Purdue Pharma Knew About Oxycontin Abuse
The New York Times obtained the confidential Justice Department report. It turns out Purdue Pharma was aware of the significant abuse of Oxycontin in the first years after it was introduced in 1996. The pharmaceutical company had already received reports that the Oxycontin was being crushed and snorted, that it was being stolen, and that doctors were selling prescriptions for the drug.
Purdue Pharma marketed Oxycontin as non-addictive drug. It said that because of its extended-release formulation, it was safe to prescribe for long-term use. There was no evidence for the claim. Instead of advertising it as being less addicting, it said that the drug had little or no risk of abuse or addiction.
Instead, what the company did was make a pill with a higher concentration of narcotics. Oxycontin wasn't being used correctly by users, and this made it more appealing as a street drug than other drugs. Executives from Purdue Pharma told Congress that they didn't know Oxycontin was being abused until early 2000.
The New York Times report shows that the only reason Purdue Pharma wasn't charged with felonies for knowing that Oxycontin was being abused is that the George W. Bush administration didn't support charging the executives with that crime.
Purdue Pharma's Knowledge
The Justice Department report shows that Purdue Pharma's sales representatives were aware of the abuse that was happening from 1997 to 1999. They produced 117 internal notes after speaking with medical professionals that used the words "street value," "crush," or "snort."
Purdue Pharma's general counsel found that there were references to Oxycontin abuse online in 1999. Another executive wrote an email in 2000 that Oxycontin abuse exploded publicly. In the email, the executive says that some pharmacies were fearful of stocking the drug for fear of being robbed.
The report recommends that Purdue Pharma executives be indicted on felony charges, including conspiracy to defraud the United States. Instead, the government settled with the company on a misdemeanor, charging misbranding.
Over the last 20 years, more than 200,000 have died from overdoses involving prescription opioids. Purdue Pharma is being sued by many states and cities for causing the current opioid epidemic. States like Alabama and Washington both sued to hold the company accountable for the current opioid epidemic.
Purdue Pharma has responded to criticism by cutting sales staff and announcing that it would stop promoting opioids to physicians.