Maker of Oxycontin to cease marketing efforts to doctors

Purdue Pharmaceuticals, the maker of the opioid painkiller OxyContin, said it would no longer actively market opioid products - a major about-face for a company increasingly viewed as a principal culprit in the country's addiction and overdose crisis. Purdue Pharma has total revenue of about $3 billion, with perhaps a third of the total coming from painkiller OxyContin. Accordingly, the company has laid off more than 50 percent of its sales force, with the remaining employees focusing on non-opioid products.

Purdue's head of medical affairs, Monica Kwarcinski, said the company also plans to run all questions through its medical affairs department as part of its efforts to support "responsible" opioid use.

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.

We were the first company to introduce an opioid pain medication with abuse-deterrent properties and labeling claims, and we are investing in research to develop non-opioid pain medications.

Its sales representatives will now focus on Symproic, a drug for treating opioid-induced constipation, and other potential non-opioid products, Purdue said.

The government pressure on opioid prescribing is having a profound effect.

Opioids are substances that work on the nervous system in the body or specific receptors in the brain to reduce the intensity of pain.

Opioids, though, were involved in more than 42,000 overdose deaths in 2016, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the most recent figures suggest that 145 Americans now die every day from overdoses.

Purdue and three former executives pleaded guilty in federal court a decade ago to criminal charges of misleading the public about the addictive nature of OxyContin, paying more than $630 million in fines and penalties.

  • Aubrey Nash