Even on a day when the world was offering plenty of
diversions - Tony Blair's resignation, brush fires and
bad air, the Marlins winning in the bottom of the ninth
inning - this story was particularly stunning.
The maker of OxyContin, the painkiller that Purdue
Pharma first marketed in small American towns to "get
the ball rolling," and three executives will pay $634
million after admitting they misled regulators, doctors
and patients about the narcotic's risks.
These bigwigs are not going to prison, mind you.
They're just writing checks - really big checks - which
is the part that's particularly stunning.
You do not need to look far to see the chaotic
leftovers of OxyContin addictions. In last year's report
from our local medical examiner's office - the annual
report that details, among other things, deaths by drug
overdose - Palm Beach and Broward counties led the state
in OxyContin deaths.
Another proud moment for us all.
Could this let doctors off the hook?
We've watched mothers wage bedside vigils, fathers
testify about their daughter's swift addiction. And at
least three Florida doctors have been convicted for some
sort of impropriety involving the prescribing of
OxyContin: Dr. Thomas G. Merrill from the Panhandle, Dr.
Asuncion Luyao from Port St. Lucie and Dr. Denis
Deonarine from Jupiter.
Many, many others have taken sentences to avoid
Assistant State Attorney Barbara Burns, prosecutor of
the Deonarine case, said Friday she watched the Purdue
Pharma decision with a curious mind and a bit of an
Attorneys are like that, I suppose.
"There's a concern now that we're going to have a
backlash," she said. "The question now is, what kind of
a stance will the defense attorneys take on the doctors
who have been convicted?"
After all, if the drug company misled the doctors,
then maybe the doctors didn't mislead us.
Along the way in the early to mid-1990s, as more
people found OxyContin's strength a relief from their
pain - and as more and more lives were ripped apart -
there were people out there who knew what Purdue Pharma
admitted to this week.
Or at least they thought they knew.
From very early on, these advocates called themselves
Relatives Against Purdue Pharma and communicated online,
exchanging stories, writing soulful memorials, even
picketing at the drug company's headquarters in
Families knew the deal, paid the price
A posting on one Web site, started in the early 2000s
by a grieving father, shows a younger Gov. Charlie Crist,
then attorney general, meeting with families in
The tributes on these Web sites go on for pages and
pages. Stories about patients who took OxyContin for a
torn shoulder ligament or back pain or the cancer that
had invaded their bones.
But they knew, these families did, that the drug
makers had manipulated the statistics, repressed the
case studies, reassured doctors that the addiction rate
was really quite low, all things considered.
From one posting:
My name is Kay and I lost my only child, my son
Jason Lancing Kelley on June 6, 2003. He was involved in
a motorcycle accident 21/2 years ago and given the drug
OxyContin for non-terminal pain ... he became addicted
not long after ... The last two years of his life were a
horror story of addiction, withdrawal, pharmacy hopping,
being over prescribed ... Then he finally lost his
battle against this miserable drug when he breathed his
last breath ... I lost my life, my love and my heart.
And for that, the bigwigs get to write a check?
No wonder I'm feeling so lousy. It's not the fires or
the haze or the drought. It's the madness