US drugmaker undertakes to stop promoting opioids

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OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma has announced that it has cut its sales force in half and will stop promoting opioids to physicians, following widespread criticism of the ways that drugmakers market addictive painkillers. Reuters Health reports that the US drugmaker said it will inform doctors that its sales representatives will no longer visit physician offices to discuss its opioid products. It will now have about 200 sales representatives, Purdue said.

“We have restructured and significantly reduced our commercial operation and will no longer be promoting opioids to prescribers,” the Stamford, Connecticut-based company said. Doctors with opioid-related questions will be directed to its medical affairs department. Its sales representatives will now focus on Symproic, a drug for treating opioid-induced constipation, and other potential non-opioid products, Purdue said.

The report says, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, opioids were involved in more than 42,000 overdose deaths in 2016. Among other opioid producers, Endo International agreed in July to pull its Opana ER painkiller after the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) called for its withdrawal.

Purdue and other drugmakers have been fighting lawsuits by states, counties and cities that have accused them of pushing addictive painkillers through deceptive marketing. The report says the lawsuits have generally accused Purdue of downplaying OxyContin’s addiction risk and of misleading marketing that overstated the benefits of opioids for treating chronic, rather than short-term, pain. At least 14 states have sued privately-held Purdue.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall filed a recent lawsuit accusing Purdue of deceptively marketing prescription opioids. Purdue is also facing a federal investigation by the US Attorney’s Office in Connecticut.

The report says Purdue has denied the allegations in the various lawsuits. It has said its drugs are approved by the FDA and account for only 2% of all opioid prescriptions.

Purdue and three executives pleaded guilty in 2007 to federal charges related to the misbranding of OxyContin and agreed to pay $634.5m to resolve a US Justice Department probe. The report says that year, Purdue also reached a $19.5m settlement with 26 states and the District of Columbia. It agreed in 2015 to pay $24m to resolve a lawsuit by Kentucky.

The report says US President Donald Trump has drawn criticism for his response to the opioid crisis. He has yet to declare it a national emergency as he pledged to do in August following a recommendation by a presidential commission.

Reuters Health report

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