OxyContin maker to stop promoting opioids to doctors

Kristoffer Tripplaar via NBC News

Kristoffer Tripplaar via NBC News

OxyContin has always been the world's top-selling opioid painkiller, bringing in billions in sales for the privately-held company.

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. "Even if we save one life due to this decision, it is worth it".

Purdue Pharma will no longer target US doctors in its efforts to sell OxyContin, a prescription opioid whose overprescription fueled America's opioid crisis - and made billions for Purdue's founding family.

The Connecticut-based drugmaker said that it has already reduced its sales representative to 200 and has restructured its commercial operation.The drug company said that its sales representatives will longer visit doctors' offices to promote the company's opioid products. "Requests for information about our opioid products will be handled through direct communication with the highly experienced health care professionals that comprise our Medical Affairs department".

The company slashed more than half of its current sales force, alerting staff to the changes in a letter earlier this week.

Purdue's sales representatives will now focus on the Symproic drug created to treat opioid-induced constipation, and other non-opioid products. Symproic is used to treat opioid-related constipation.

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Purdue Pharma denies allegations of complicity in the opioid epidemic and says it is committed to curbing rates of opioid abuse.

At least 14 states have sued Purdue, and many cities including Greenfield and Springfield in Western Massachusetts.

OxyContin was launched by Purdue Pharma in 1995. The drug was marketed as a non-addictive treatment for chronic pain. Opioids also have been blamed for a resurgence in heroin use.

Opioids are substances that work on the nervous system in the body or specific receptors in the brain to reduce the intensity of pain. Instead, the company said it will direct prescribers to materials published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the office of the US surgeon general.

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.

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