Purdue Pharma Cuts More Than Half of U.S. Sales Staff Amid Opioid Crisis


OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma LP is slashing its sales force in half as the company changes its marketing strategy for its chronic pain pill that for many has become the poster child of opioid abuse.

On Monday Stamford, Conn.-based Purdue announced the cuts in its sales team and said those sales reps who remain on the payroll will no longer visit with prescribers to talk about the company’s pain products. In a statement, Purdue said it will no longer be promoting opioids to prescribers, Bloomberg reported.

That announcement is a big change in the way Purdue has aggressively marketed OxyContin in the past. Company tactics have been so aggressive that lawsuits have been filed against Purdue, such as one from the state of West Virginia. That lawsuit, which was also aimed at Abbott Labs that marketed OxyContin from 1996 to 2002, highlighted incentives that were used to boost sales. Just last week, the state of Alabama filed a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma over marketing practices. Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall alleged in the lawsuit that Purdue “misrepresented the risks and benefits of opioids,” Reuters reported. That misrepresentation helped the company increase sales, the lawsuit alleges. The company faces numerous additional lawsuits.

Purdue has denied allegations of misconduct. In its announcement, the company said its lead drug OxyContin and other opioid-based medications account for about 2 percent of all opioid prescriptions. Purdue said it has “consistently followed opioid guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control, which include a recommendation that opioids not be the first option for chronic pain,” USA Today reported.

Just over a decade ago, Purdue Pharma was forced to pay more than $600 million in fines after the company pleaded guilty in 2007 to a criminal charge of misbranding OxyContin in an effort to mislead doctors and consumers.

In a statement on its website, Purdue said there are too many opioid prescriptions now in the medicine cabinets of people across the United States. The company said it supports initiatives to limit the length of first opioid prescriptions. Purdue went on in its statement to talk about the need to curb opioid abuse and its efforts in developing new formulations that could make it harder for the medication to be abused. Nowhere in its open letter did it address past marketing practice mistakes.

Opioid abuse is one of the most prevalent healthcare issues. In 2016, there were an estimated 64,000 drug-related deaths in the United States, with the highest increase related to opioid drugs, according to statistics provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 78 Americans die daily from opioid overdoses.

While Purdue has cut the number of its sales reps, Bloomberg noted that has coincided with declining revenue from OxyContin sales. In 2017, OxyContin generated $1.8 billion, but that’s down $1 billion from peak sales five years ago.

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