Medical providers received a letter from OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma Monday alerting doctors that the company will no longer promote its signature painkiller.
Purdue Pharma revealed in an announcement Friday that it had cut more than half of their sales force, alerting staff to the changes in a letter last week. The move reduces the sales staff to 200 employees and effectively ends the long-held marketing practice of promoting painkillers to health care professionals, reports USA Today.
Purdue Pharma’s medical affairs team will now field any questions regarding pain medications from doctors. Purdue Pharma is the first major opioid drug maker to end the practice of marketing painkillers to medical professionals.
“Our field sales organization will no longer be visiting your offices to engage you in discussions about our opioid products,” reads Purdue’s letter to medical providers sent Monday.
The unexpected shift in policy from Purdue Pharma is likely a concession to the demands of dozens of states and localities suing the drug maker, along with other manufacturers of opioid painkillers, for igniting the addiction crisis through deceptive marketing practices that downplayed the risks of their drugs.
Addiction experts are welcoming the decision, but note it is only a small step towards reducing overall opioid abuse and addiction. Much of the current damage being done by the opioid epidemic is due to street drugs like heroin and fentanyl, which users have turned to in the absence of the prescription painkillers that first made them dependent on opioids.
“The decision by a manufacturer to stop pushing opioid pain medications is late, but better late than never,” Indra Cidambi, medical director at the Center for Network Therapy, a treatment program in New Jersey, told USA Today. “Even if we save one life due to this decision, it is worth it.”
Dozens of lawsuits across the country allege that Purdue Pharma launched a fraudulent marketing scheme to boost sales of OxyContin in the late 1990s that downplayed the risks for addiction from pain medication. Medical professionals say a shift in the 1990s to “institutionalize” pain management opened the doors for pharmaceutical companies to encourage the mass prescribing of painkillers by doctors, and Purdue Pharma led that effort.
Purdue Pharma denies allegations of complicity in the opioid epidemic and says it is committed to curbing rates of opioid abuse.
“We are deeply troubled by the opioid crisis and we are dedicated to being part of the solution,” a spokesman for Purdue Pharma previously told The Daily Caller News Foundation in response to a lawsuit filed by the attorney general of New Jersey. “We vigorously deny these allegations and look forward to the opportunity to present our defense.”
Purdue Pharma is owned by the Sackler family, which is listed as one of the wealthiest families in the country on the annual Forbes list, worth approximately $13 billion. The family’s fortune largely comes from OxyContin sales, which their company branded and introduced as an extended release painkiller in 1995.
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