Earlier this month, Purdue Pharma published an official statement on their website in regard to their aggressive marketing tactics. In bold letters, the top of the statement reads, “We have restructured and significantly reduced our commercial operation and our sales representatives will no longer promote opioids to prescribers.” Their new business plan includes cutting over half of their sales representatives and no longer allowing them to market in doctors’ offices.
Purdue is the pharmaceutical company best known for their production of the prescription opioid OxyContin which many accredit to the start of the opioid epidemic. With the massive amount of painkiller addiction in Long Island and our nation, this statement seems like a major breakthrough in solving the problem. On the other hand, it also seems like a way of pacifying the public due to the numerous lawsuits they’ve been receiving in the past decade and an opportunity for financial growth.
The prescribing and abuse of painkillers has affected almost every community in Long Island. People of all ages have been getting hooked on these prescription drugs and not been able to get off, leading them to a life of misery, dependency, desperation, and crime. What will come of Purdue Pharma’s statement and how will it affect us Long Islanders? We can only hope that this change in their marketing tactics will allow doctors to feel less pressure to prescribe these highly addictive medications which, in turn, will cause overdose and opioid addiction rates to drop.
Throughout the 90’s when OxyContin was beginning to hit the market, Purdue Pharma presented “facts” to doctors and patients, saying that their product would not produce euphoric effects when taken nor withdrawal symptoms once the patient chose to discontinue use. The circulation of this misinformation allowed their sales to sky-rocket and created an addiction problem to painkillers that this country had never seen before. The company pleaded guilty for their marketing tactics being highly misleading when they were finally taken to court in 2007.
Purdue paid their $634 million fine for that trial yet continued to find loopholes and market in aggressive and misleading ways. They offered their sales reps very nice bonuses for contracts with prescribers to sell OxyContin. These representatives sought out doctors known for prescribing opioids and bombarded their offices. The opioid epidemic in the U.S. has only continued to grow worse with an average of 145 people a day overdosing on painkillers. The overdose death rate in Long Island has been on the rise and we can no longer idly sit by.
We’ve seen Purdue Pharma taken to trial and forced to pay large fees, yet they have continued to contribute to the problem. What makes things different this time then? I took a look at their website and immediately found myself growing suspicious. A flashy banner at the top of the page reads, “The opioid crisis is among our nation’s top health challenges. Purdue has long been an industry leader in the fight against opioid abuse and diversion.” The actions of Purdue Pharma and similar companies have only fanned the flames of the opioid epidemic – we’ve watched as Long Island residents have fallen victim to painkiller addiction and the numbers of overdose deaths have risen.
“I don’t think that this is coming out of good intentions,” says the co-director of the Opioid Policy Research Collaborative at Brandeis University, Andrew Kolodny, “I think that sales for OxyContin have already been declining.” Kevin Tuohy, a professor of pharmacy practices at Butler University agrees, saying, “Discontinuing the sales information pipeline to prescribers will most likely not affect the prescribing of these drugs.” Basically, the damage has already been done and the lack of marketing in the doctors’ offices might not affect the rate at which physicians will prescribe painkillers.
Although we may not know Purdue Pharma’s true motivations, we can still choose to find the positivity in their new business approach and recognize that we’re moving towards progression. “The decision by a manufacturer to stop pushing opioid pain medications is late, but better late than never,” says Indra Cidambi, the medical director of the Center for Network Therapy detox facility. It seems we’re headed in the right direction – the painkiller addiction problem in Long Island can be eradicated, we just have to keep making efforts as a community and continue to put pressure on these pharmaceutical companies.