BY BOB WHITBY
First came the e-mail hinting at dirt on the Orlando
Sentinel. And I bit. Then came the phone call, and I bit
again. Then came the documents, and I continued to
chomp. Who can resist the tantalizing allure of
afflicting the afflicters? Most people, probably, but I
do not count myself among them. I know how journalism is
made -- news, like hot dogs, is a product you should not
inspect closely if you wish to keep consuming it. And I
am well versed in the haughty, insular nature of
monopoly dailies. It's all polish, professionalism and
public editors on the outside, but there are bones in
In retrospect I see that I was played. By the best, in
fact, but that's little consolation. The only way to
salvage this ugly affair is to turn it into a short (I
promise) tutorial on corporate protectionism.
In October, the Sentinel published a five-day series on
the dangers of OxyContin, a potent prescription
painkiller with a troubling history of overdoses.
Reporter Doris Bloodsworth did nine months of the
requisite legwork, examining 500 autopsy reports from
around the state, 5,000 pages of documents from a state
inquiry into the marketing of OxyContin, and scores of
interviews with doctors and families. Bloodsworth was
able to link some 200 deaths in 2001 and 2002 to the
painkiller, the same stuff that Rush Limbaugh was hooked
on. (Why oh why ... never mind.)
In the past, OxyContin has been criticized as being the
prescription drug of choice for abusers, who crush the
pill and snort it, bypassing its time-release mechanism.
Doing so sometimes has the unpleasant side effect of
death. Of course Purdue Pharma, the makers of OxyContin,
can't be held responsible for the misbehavior of
addicts. You are supposed to take the pills whole; it
says so right on the label.
But Bloodsworth was interested in deaths among people
taking OxyContin correctly, under the supervision of a
physician. That kind of publicity can seriously cut into
a company's bottom line.
So Purdue got busy picking the series apart, and Orlando
Weekly got a phone call from their PR agency in Tampa
(red flag there). Would I be interested in debunking
this "harmful and misleading" series of articles,
wondered Robin Hogen, Purdue Pharma's vice president for
public affairs? A deal with the devil, but why not hear
what Old Scratch has to say?
After two months of high-priced lawyers scrutinizing the
series, here's what Purdue Pharma came up with: David
Rokisky, one of the innocent "victims" Bloodsworth wrote
about, has a history of drug abuse; and Gerry Cover, a
Kissimmee man who died of an overdose, had drugs besides
oxycodone (the active ingredient in OxyContin) in his
Both are quasi-legitimate concerns. And both are
indicative of how far Purdue will go to protect the
Bloodsworth interviewed Rokisky, who told her that until
a doctor prescribed OxyContin, "Life was perfect." She
also wrote that, "He didn't even drink or smoke." Purdue
Pharma's lawyers, however, did a little background check
on Rokisky and learned that he's also an ex-cop from
Albuquerque who pled guilty to one count of distributing
cocaine in April 2000, and who, according to his lawyer,
"had problems" with cocaine and steroids.
Regarding Cover's death, Bloodsworth wrote, "An autopsy
determined that he had a lethal dose of oxycodone." The
autopsy actually says "toxic" instead of "lethal." It
also notes the presence of several other prescription
drugs in Cover's blood, and pegs "multidrug overdose" as
the cause of death.
Purdue lawyers are also trying to make hay out of the
idea that the Sentinel's analysis of autopsy reports
doesn't conform to scientific standards, which is
ridiculous. Reporting isn't analyzing, and the Sentinel
Said inaccuracies aside, what's interesting is what
Purdue isn't contesting about the series. Bloodsworth
wrote about the company's aggressive marketing campaign,
which recently came under fire from the General
Accounting Office, an investigative arm of congress. She
also wrote about doctors who didn't fully understand
what they were prescribing, the incredible profits
Purdue made from OxyContin and the company's attack-dog
tactics when criticized in the press.
"We found out very quickly that this wasn't about truth
or facts or science," she quotes Hogen saying at
public-relations seminar in 2002. "It was really about
politics, and we had to think politically
"Including playing journalists to do their bidding. I
feel so dirty.
attempt at damage control Wednesday
March 05, 2003
BY BOB BRAUN Star-Ledger Staff
The word for the day at a conference
last week at Columbia University's National Center for
Addiction and Substance Abuse in New York City.
Most participants were doctors and what "chilled" --
scared -- them were fears of running afoul of the law
for prescribing pain medications. Heard it a lot.
Doctors who knew doctors who were arrested because, it
turns out, the guy who asked for relief for his backache
was really collecting prescriptions for addictive drugs
that could be sold on the street. Drugs like "hillbilly
That's what Laura Nagle, a Drug Enforcement
Administration agent, calls OxyContin, a powerful opioid,
potentially as addictive as morphine. In some states,
especially in Appalachia, it's a bigger problem than
Oh-oh. Did I say "addictive"?
Well, Nagle did. But a guy named Robin Hogen gets upset
if you use the word "addictive" -- although he
accidentally used it himself to describe OxyContin. He
quickly corrected himself to say it has the "same
potential for abuse as morphine."
He is vice president for public affairs for Purdue
Pharma, maker of OxyContin.
He is soft-spoken and amiable. He wears a bow tie and a
pinstriped suit. He corrects misimpressions about
OxyContin and warns you -- nicely -- to watch your
But something he said struck me as chilling indeed. He
spoke of Jill Skolek, a 29-year-old mother from
Phillipsburg who, last year, died after taking OxyContin
for back pain. That led her mother,
Marianne, of Whitehouse Station, to
crusade against the drug. Marianne, a nurse, wants the
Food and Drug Administration to force Purdue to admit
OxyContin is addictive. She also wants the FDA to stop
Purdue from marketing the drug widely. She said Jill
should never have been given so powerful a drug --
initially developed for cancer patients -- but doctors
are not adequately warned.
After months of letters and complaints
from Skolek, the FDA in January did issue a stern
"warning letter" to Purdue Pharma LP. In part, it read:
"Your journal advertisements omit and
minimize the serious safety risks associated with
OxyContin, and promote it for uses beyond which have
been proven safe and effective."
The FDA had issued an earlier letter, in
May of 2000, saying advertising for OxyContin was
misleading. Nearly 200 lawsuits have been filed against
Purdue, including some by states. So far, about 20 have
This is what Hogen said about Jill
Skolek: "We think she abused drugs."
The medical examiner didn't say that.
Hogen admits he really doesn't know.
That's a pretty heavy charge to make
against a young woman who died, leaving behind a
6-year-old son, Brian. Because Jill can't defend
And, especially because it might lead
journalists -- like me -- to avoid writing about her
mother's efforts to hold a big pharmaceutical house
accountable. No one wants to create sympathy for a
junkie. But Jill was no junkie.
The stakes are high. For Purdue, which
had $1.2 billion in OxyContin sales last year. And for
thousands of people who may have died or become addicted
after using it.
But that wasn't the only chilling thing
The conference featured a panel
discussion that included Richard Blumenthal, the
Connecticut attorney general, who described his efforts
to get information about Purdue.
After the discussion, I spoke to
Blumenthal. Off to the side. I asked him to clarify
whether his efforts constituted an "investigation."
He had called it "an ongoing inquiry,"
but I didn't want to say he was investigating Purdue, a
Stamford company, if he wasn't.
"Well, yes, you can call it an
investigation," he said. "It might not be a criminal
investigation, but it's an investigation."
That's right from the mouth of the
Hours later, a message was left on my
voice-mail. By Hogen. He said:
"I couldn't help but overhear your
conversation with Attorney General Blumenthal at the end
of the CASA conference and I'm concerned that you may
misrepresent something he said tomorrow which involves
the correspondence between Purdue and the attorney
"There is no investigation under way. I
think what he told you was that there was an
investigative effort, and what that means is that he has
written a letter and asked us for some documents and our
marketing plans for the last few years, samples of ads
and marketing plans, which we're of course providing to
him. We've already provided these to several newspapers
in Florida. We're happy to provide them to our attorney
"But that does not constitute an
investigation, and that would be inaccurate for you to
report tomorrow that the attorney general of Connecticut
has launched an investigation of Purdue Pharma.
"I do not think that's what he meant. I
heard him say it, but I also heard him withdraw it and I
think we've asked him point-blank about this and he has
told us and I think he would tell you, if you gave him a
moment to think about it, that Purdue is not, there is
no investigation. There is an exchange of documents that
does not constitute an investigation and I did want to
clarify that and I would encourage you to call the
attorney general and ask for a clarification because we
do not want (sic), we've asked him the same question,
and he has told us that this is not an investigation.
"It's a request for documents and
there's a big difference."
A few notes: Hogen, of course, had no
business listening in on my conversation.
I did ask Blumenthal for a clarification
and he did say it was an "investigation."
A court, not Purdue, released those
marketing documents in Florida after two newspapers sued
the state, which had collected them in its own
And I had to think about how easily this
man judged Jill Skolek and carelessly talked about her
to a newsman. Jill can't leave a message clarifying what
This was the public relations man's
sign-off to me on my tape:
"Bob, I hope you take this in the spirit
in which it is offered."
I sure did.
It was chilling.
OxyContin manufacturer: Don't forget the patients
By Paul Goldenheim, M.D. | My Word
Posted January 22, 2004
In the past few weeks, the Orlando Sentinel has reported
on several new state and federal initiatives to address
the problem of prescription-drug abuse in Florida. State
Sen. Burt Saunders announced hearings to examine
Medicaid fraud as it relates to the illegal diversion of
prescription drugs; a separate task force, headed by
Attorney General Charlie Crist and Florida drug czar
James McDonough, will investigate the same issue; and
U.S. Congressman John Mica announced that a House
subcommittee will hold a hearing in February on this
As the manufacturer of OxyContin (oxycodone HCl
controlled-release) Tablets, we share these concerns
about prescription-drug abuse in Florida. This problem
is not a new phenomenon, however, and we must be careful
that any proposed "cure" does not do more harm than the
"disease" itself. In other words, measures designed to
curb illegal trafficking and abuse of prescription drugs
must not restrict access for patients who need these
It is our hope that lawmakers will consider three very
important points when addressing this problem. First,
and most important, these medications when used
appropriately help alleviate the pain of thousands of
Floridians who otherwise would suffer needlessly.
Second, it is the abuse of these medications, not the
medications themselves, that is the cause of the
problem. Third, according to the Florida Medical
Examiners reports, the majority of drug-related
fatalities occur from a lethal cocktail of several
A scientific study published in the Journal of
Analytical Toxicology reported the analysis of more than
1,000 autopsies of drug overdoses involving oxycodone
from 23 states, including more than 300 from Florida,
which occurred between August 1999 and January 2002. The
study found that greater than 90 percent of deaths where
oxycodone was present were due to drug abuse. In that
same study, 268, or 94 percent, of those deaths in
Florida involved drug abuse. All of them had multiple
drugs present at autopsy.
Purdue Pharma has been on the front lines in the fight
against the illegal trafficking and abuse of
prescription drugs. In the state of Florida alone, we
have spent more than $150,000 to educate 680
law-enforcement officers about how to combat
prescription-drug trafficking. We have distributed some
35,000 tamper-resistant prescription pads to 2,200
physicians throughout the state, and sponsored over 500
educational programs for more than 135,000 health-care
professionals on the appropriate use of pain
medications. We are also underwriting "Communities That
Care" programs in Tampa, Tallahassee and Palm Beach
County to identify and address the root causes of
substance abuse in these communities, at a cost of
$25,000 per site.
In addition, Purdue has pledged $2 million toward the
development of an innovative prescription-monitoring
program in Florida that, once completed, could be shared
with other states across the country. And we are working
with the state's legislative leadership to gain support
for the legislation needed to establish a
Purdue is taking these steps to ensure that criminal
activity does not determine health-care policy in
Florida. As lawmakers seek solutions to the problem of
prescription-drug abuse, they must be sure that
responsible health-care professionals can continue to
provide effective and appropriate care to patients
suffering from serious, unrelenting pain.
Paul Goldenheim, M.D. is executive vice president and
chief scientific officer for Purdue Pharma L.P.
In reply to Dr Goldenheim of Purdue Pharma the
Manufacturer of Oxycontin
RE: Don't forget the patients.
Doctor Goldenheim's letter is typical spin and deception
that Purdue Pharma's Million Dollar PR staff has been
putting out since the OXY epidemic has started.
The Doctor referenced a study in the Journal of
Analytical Toxicology, what he failed to mention is that
the study was funded by Purdue and the authors were all
employees or paid consultants. Other studies NOT funded
by Purdue Pharma have come up with much different
results such as the one sanctioned by the DEA.
He also states that related fatalities occur from a
lethal cocktail of drugs. What also may not be known to
the common person is that it is routine practice for
doctorsto prescribe multiple drugs for ailments that
would require a prescription for oxycontin.
Doctor Goldenheim then goes into the company PR spiel of
all the programs that Purdue has funded ranging from 25
to 150 thousand dollars. With annual salesof 1.5 Billion
they certainly can afford this especially when you
factor in the Public Relations benefit to the company.
He spouts they are so concerned that Purdue pledged 2
million dollars to a prescription monitoring program for
Florida. Again what he left out was they only pledged
this after they hired the former Florida Attorney's best
friend as a lobbyist who engineered a deal that Florida
drop an investigation against Purdue Pharma in exchange
for this pledge.
In my opinion it is spin and deception like this, Purdue
Pharma's failure to acknowledge the problem, their
marketing this powerful narcotic to general
practitioners for moderate pain which made this the
deadliest prescription drug epidemic in modern history.
Drastic solutions such as limiting oxycontin to severe
pain only or reducing who can prescribe it to properly
trained specialists are now needed.
Purdue claims they are worried about any solution that
may hurt patients, what they are really worried about is
any solution that will affect sales and their bottom
I am just a grieving father who lost his only son. Eddie
was a 18 year old Senior in High School an athlete and
honor student. He made a huge mistake at a party, went
to sleep and NEVER woke up.
This tragedy is being repeated over and over due to the
wide availability of oxycontin on the street. Many other
victim's who started out as legitimate patients have
died or became addicted.
All this is documented as is more of their deception and
spin in the guestbook of my website
WWW.OXYABUSEKILLS.COM, the Orlando sentinel series, the
book PAIN KILLER, the GAO report and many more media
How did it get this far? Well This quote from one of the
Congressman who has investigated this epidemic and
requested the GAO report says it all:
"This report reinforces what I suspected all along:
Purdue Pharma has engaged in highly questionable
practices regarding the marketing of OxyContin, leaving
a plague of abuse and broken lives in its path," said
Kentucky Republican Rep. Hal Rogers, whose district has
seen high levels of OxyContin abuse.