Purdue Pharma announced it was filing for bankruptcy on Sunday, September 15, 2019.
They have been in the news for so long.
What does this mean?
Hopefully this post will show you the history of this company, their impact on the opioid crisis, and what may happen next.
Purdue Pharma History
It was founded in 1892 by medical doctors John Purdue Gray and George Frederick Bingham.
In 1952, two other doctors, Raymond and Mortimer Sackler, bought the company. Older brother Arthur Sackler had a one-third stake in the company, which was sold to his brothers after his death. At that time, the company sold staples such as earwax remover and laxatives.
Purdue Pharma L.P. was incorporated in 1991, focused on pain management medication.
Manufacturing is located at three sites: Wilson, North Carolina; Totowa, New Jersey; and Coventry, Rhode Island.
Sister companies, also controlled by descendants of the Sackler brothers are Napp Pharmaceuticals in the U.K. and Mundipharma. These companies sell opioids globally.
In addition to OxyContin, Purdue makes pain medicines such as hydromorphone, oxycodone, fentanyl, codeine, and hydrocodone. Contin, a controlled drug-release system was developed in 1972. Its extended-release formulation of morphine, MS Contin, began in 1984.
OxyContin is Purdue’s extended-release formulation of oxycodone. It was released in 1996.
Arthur Sackler pioneered an aggressive marketing strategy decades earlier. Purdue pressed and convinced doctors to prescribe OxyContin, with incentives such as free trips to pain management seminars and paid speaking engagements. The drug was marketed as “smooth and sustained pain control all day and all night” when taken on a 12-hour schedule. In addition, it was touted to have “lower abuse potential than immediate-release oxycodone because of its time-release properties, even though there was no scientific evidence backing that conclusion.”
In 2000, just four years after OxyContin was released, widespread reports of abuse of the drug came to light.
At the same time, OxyContin was a “blockbuster drug” for Purdue. Between 1995 and 2001, OxyContin netted $2.8 billion for Purdue.
The Opioid Crisis
The numbers are staggering. According to an AP article published in January 2019, the opioid crisis killed 72,000 Americans in 2017.
An article from Quartz, published in mid-August 2019, was the summary of a meeting between an ER doctor and a former Purdue Pharma sales representative, and others.
“The company has not only faced public pushback for its role in the opioid crisis, but in 2007 Purdue was found guilty of downplaying the risks and overstating the effectiveness of opioids. The company also used legal marketing practices to boost sales, despite knowing the risks of addiction and dependence. These tactics are now at the center of a host of lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors; those suits are currently making their way through the courts in Ohio.”
Some of the statements that Carol, the former sales rep, and Dr. Chris Johnson, made, were staggering.
“I remember hearing rumors early on that the bonuses for the Purdue sales reps were just incredible. Some of them were making $50 or $60,000 a quarter in incentive bonuses.”—Carol Panara, former Purdue sales rep
“Here’s the problem with a capitalist society: They have an incentive in you consuming more health care. You being healthy on your own isn’t good for business.”—Dr. Chris Johnson
Johnson: “With the passage the Affordable Care Act, something came into existence called the Open Payments Act. You can look up and see what doctors have taken gifts from pharmaceutical companies. And it turns out if you want to see where the most opioids deaths are, follow pharmaceutical gifts to doctors. Open Payments shows that half the doctors in this country take gifts from pharmaceutical companies. They’ve all taken the oath. Doctors are terrible at assessing how their influenced. In my view, rather than relying on raising a hand and taking an oath, disrupt the incentives. Disrupt that reciprocity mechanism to get independent, and I would hope, more scientific thinking.”
In my area of southeastern Virginia, a recent discussion with the Opioid Working Group found that an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 people have withdrawn from the Hampton Roads workforce due to opioids.
In short, Purdue knew years ago its drug was dangerous and addictive, but they aggressively marketed it anyway.
The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The intent for this filing was to stop the onslaught of lawsuits that the company has been facing. These lawsuit range from state to local governments, among others.
However, some state attorneys general have made it clear they will be pursuing additional damages from both the company and the Sackler family.
It has been reported that the company assets are not sufficient for the states. As early as last week, the New York attorney general’s office announced it had uncovered $1 billion dollars in wire transfers by the Sackler family.
To me, they’re running scared. This bankruptcy filing is their last resort, desperate to settle out of court.
In March 2019, Purdue and the Sackler family agreed to settle a case with the state of Oklahoma for $270 million dollars.
Twelve years ago, in 2007, a landmark settlement of $634.5 million dollars was reached, based on federal allegations the company had misbranded OxyContin. The company, along with three executives, plead guilty to criminal charges.
I look forward to future media coverage. It’s high time that a company like this is finally held accountable for its actions.
- Opioids – Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, October 23, 2016
- Virginia’s Opioid Addiction Crisis: A Public Health Emergency – 3rd Annual Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) Mental Health Summit, May 9, 2017
- Founder of Purdue Pharma Made a Fortune From Addictive Painkiller OxyContin, Donated Generously to Charity – The Wall Street Journal, July 21, 2017
- Filing: OxyContin maker forecast ‘blizzard of prescriptions’ – AP News, January 15, 2019
- Opioid Lawsuits Are Headed to Trial. Here’s Why The Stakes Are Getting Uglier. – The New York Times, January 30, 2019
- Opioids II – Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, April 14, 2019
- How an ER Doctor and a Purdue Pharma whistleblower think about the opioid crisis – Quartz, August 21, 2019
- Revisit Purdue Pharma’s Role in the Opioid Crisis – Frontline
- Purdue Pharma began cutting its opioid sales force last year, attorney says in bankruptcy hearing – CNN, September 18, 2019
- Opioid-maker Purdue Pharma is allowed bonus payout in bankruptcy case – CNN, September 20, 2019
- Understanding the Opioid Epidemic – PBS
Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂