OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma may be shifting its marketing focus to Canada as the company scales back in the U.S. under increasing pressure, according to a Thursday report.
Purdue paid Canadian doctors nearly 3.5 times more than U.S. physicians in 2016, according to a Toronto Star investigation. The company spent about $58 on Canadian prescribers for every 1,000 residents compared to just $17 for Americans.
An alternative comparison shows Purdue spent $24 on each Canadian doctor, but only $6 for their U.S. counterparts. The company paid a total of around $1.6 million to Canadian physicians and $4.3 million to U.S. doctors.
“That Purdue spent more than four times as much per Canadian physician should shatter the myth that we are not exposed to the same level of aggressive marketing tactics as in the U.S.,” University of Toronto law and bioethics professor Trudo Lemmens told the Star.
Purdue stopped promoting opioids to prescribers in the U.S. in February and cut its number of sales representatives in half. Critics said the move needed to happen much sooner. Purdue’s Canadian arm didn’t say if it would make similar changes.
Hundreds of state and local governments have filed lawsuits against Purdue in the U.S.
Purdue did not challenge the Star’s analysis and did not explain why per capita payments were higher for Canadian physicians, the paper reported. Purdue’s U.S. and Canadian wings operate independently and the Canadian arm funds educational programs for doctors surrounding opioids, a company spokesman told the Star.
Such educational programs have been hosted at upscale restaurants that sometimes include free wine and dinner have been criticized as being disguised marketing tools, the Star reported.
“Canadians face a complex public health issue in which all stakeholders, including industry, have a role to play to provide practical and sustainable solutions,” the spokesman said. “Unfortunately, misuse, abuse and diversion of pain medications can lead to tragic consequences, including addiction, overdose and death.”
Unlike other large pharmaceutical manufacturers, a family privately owns Purdue. The company’s OxyContin sales have helped the Sacklers amass a $13 billion net worth, making them one of America’s richest families, according to Forbes.
The Daily Caller News Foundation has published numerous investigations regarding the Sacklers in its American Cartel series, showing that the family has never publicly donated to addiction rehabilitation facilities and has instead spent their money on the arts and humanities and on expanding their influence.
Purdue and three top executives – none of whom were members of the Sackler family – pleaded guilty to downplaying the risks of OxyContin’s addictiveness in 2007 and consequently paid nearly $635 million. The Canadian government has never sanctioned Purdue, according to the Star.
Meanwhile, the Sacklers’ international arm, Mundipharma, is pushing OxyContin abroad in a similarly aggressive and deceptive manner as it did in the U.S., the Los Angeles Times reported in December 2016.
“It doesn’t surprise me that [Purdue] would focus resources in a place where there is little accountability,” Get Prescription Drugs Off the Street founder Amy Graves told the Star.
“The Canadian government, historically to date, has proven there is no immediate effort to hold them accountable … and I think it’s given companies like Purdue Pharma an open invitation to focus their efforts here to increase prescribing,” she continued.
Lemmens and other academics recently sent letters to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the health minister and the attorney general to investigate pharmaceutical companies’ opioid marketing.
A Canadian judge refused to sign off on a $20 million settlement as part of a class-action lawsuit against Purdue, saying the amount wasn’t fair compensation to patients who got addicted to the prescription drug.
Purdue did not immediately return TheDCNF’s request for comment.
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