DOJ Report Claims Purdue Executives Knew OxyContin Was Being Abused

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Courtesy of Getty Images

Purdue Pharmaceuticals has named a new head of corporate social responsibility as it continues to grapple with negative attention due to the rampant opioid crisis across the United States.

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Purdue Pharmaceuticals has named a new head of corporate social responsibility as it continues to grapple with negative attention due to the rampant opioid crisis across the United States.

On Tuesday the company named Lisa C. Miller to the newly created position as the company seeks to “devote greater resources” to initiatives to combat the opioid crisis. The appointment came one day before a scathing Justice Department report showed that executives within the company knew about the abuse of its lead opioid drug, OxyContin in the late 1990s and early 2000s, despite assertions that it was unaware. In a long and detailed report, CNBC noted that the DOJ report showed that federal prosecutors found that the executives at the company know about “’significant’ abuse of OxyContin in the first years after the drug’s introduction in 1996 and concealed that information.”

According to the report officials at the company knew the OxyContin pills were being crushed and snorted as abusers sought to get high faster. Citing internal reports from Purdue sales representatives, the DOJ said the words “street value,” “crush,” or “snort” were used 117 times between 1997 and 1999.

Additionally, the federal report said that the company was aware that its product was being stolen from pharmacies and that some doctors were being charged with selling prescriptions, CNBC reported. Despite that knowledge, the DOJ report said that Purdue Pharma continued to market OxyContin as “less prone to abuse and addiction than other prescription opioids.”

A Purdue spokesperson told CNBC that the company is making strides to address opioid abuse. But, the spokesperson also criticized the DOJ report.

“Suggesting that activities that last occurred more than 16 years ago are responsible for today’s complex and multifaceted opioid crisis is deeply flawed,” the unnamed Purdue spokesperson told CNBC in a statement.

At one time Purdue was highly aggressive in the way it marketed OxyContin. Company tactics have been so aggressive that lawsuits have been filed against Purdue. The state of West Virginia filed a lawsuit against Purdue and Abbott Labs, which marketed OxyContin from 1996 to 2002. The lawsuit highlighted incentives that were used to boost sales. More than 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.

Earlier this year Stamford, Conn.-based Purdue announced it was cutting 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. Purdue said it will no longer be promoting opioids to prescribers. In a statement on its website, Purdue said there are too many opioid prescriptions that are now in the medicine cabinets of people across the United States. Purdue said it supports initiatives to limit the length of first opioid prescriptions.

With the appointment of Miller to the newly created role, Purdue it attempting to address some of the mistakes the company made in its past with OxyContin. Craig Landau, president and chief executive officer of Purdue, said the idea of corporate social responsibility has become an increased priority for Purdue as it continues to work to address the opioid crisis that claims the lives of an estimated 116 people in the United States each day.

“Our commitment to devote even greater resources to this area closely follows our recent decision to discontinue sales representatives’ promotion of opioids to prescribers and speaker programs associated with our opioid products,” Landau said in a statement.