Written by Neil Simmons
Saturday, 21 July 2007
|The fact that
prescription painkiller OxyContin is a powerful
narcotic is well-known, but its maker Purdue Pharma
LP tried to mask the equally powerful addictive
risks associated with the drug. The
Connecticut-based company had informed doctors and
the public that OxyContin was less addictive when
compared to the other narcotics available on the
However as things developed it quickly emerged
that OxyContin was a true member of the narcotic
family. It got teenagers addicted to it and resulted
in general havoc that led its maker to admit that
mistakes were made in dispensing with the drug
information. In May three of Purdue Pharma's current
and former executives had pleaded guilty to charges
of misleading the public about the dangerous side
effects of OxyContin.
The genesis of the problem can be traced back to
1996 when Purdue Pharma started to "sell" the
medication to doctors through focus groups touting
OxyContin as being a "safe" long-lasting painkiller.
These activities failed to convince doctors who were
cautious about the abuse potential of OxyContin.
In order to overcome these reservation and with an
eye of financial gain, Purdue began to encourage
sales representatives to mislead doctors about
OxyContin's addictive risks. For instance,
physicians were told that the drug did not produce
the intense euphoria that is commonly associated
with narcotics like morphine.
Additionally they also cited the lack of withdrawal
symptoms associated with OxyContin. The drug, Purdue
assured physicians, was safe as any other.
OxyContin is generically oxycodone, which is a
potent opoid analgesic. According to the US Food and
Drug Administration, OxyContin is intended to help
relieve pain that is moderate to severe in
intensity, when that pain is present all the time,
and expected to continue for a long time.
Because OxyContin produces quick and effective pain
relief, doctors began using it extensively in their
prescriptions. Sales of the drug boomed and Purdue's
bottom line looked lucrative. But it became apparent
very soon that OxyContin was one of the country's
worst prescription-drug failures.
The present case against Purdue Pharma for
misrepresenting OxyContin's side effects was brought
in west Virginia, an area that has had to struggle
with ever increasing problem of teen drug abuse and
a jump in crime rates.
In 1996 there were three deaths attributed to
OxyContin, according to William Masello, the
assistant chief medical examiner for the region. By
2003 the number of deaths had jumped to 44.
Nationwide oxycodone-related deaths had jumped
five-fold between 1996 to 2001.
Purdue Pharma admitted that it misled the public
about the risks associated with OxyContin. Michael
Friedman, who retired last month as Purdue's
president, general counsel Howard Udell and former
chief medical officer Paul Goldenheim pleaded guilty
to charges of misbranding the drug.
U.S. District Judge James Jones levied a fine of
$634.5 million on Purdue Pharma was misrepresenting
OxyContin's risks. Of this $34.5 million will be
paid out of the pockets of the three execs.
Additionally Jones also ruled that Purdue be placed
on probation for five years.
Its three executives were ordered to perform 400
hours of community service and focus of methods to
prevent prescription drug abuse. In the
four-and-a-half hours of the hearing there were
heart rending statements by relatives of those who
died from OxyContin. These people said OxyContin had
changed their whole perspective on life.
For those affected it was an emotional day, but they
were generally disappointed that the company got off
lightly despite being responsible for what is surely
a horrible crime.
Critics are now asking the FDA to limit the use of
OxyContin to people who are suffering from severe
pain. But the possibilities of that happening
appear remote as of now.
One thing is for sure though; OxyContin changed the
very landscape of prescription drug abuse in a
manner that will never be forgotten by those