Purdue Pharma finally stops marketing opioids to physicians—and cuts 200-plus representatives in the process
Purdue Pharma is slashing its sales staff
after finally announcing it will stop marketing its opioid drugs to doctors.Even as the U.S. opioid crisis deepened and lawsuits flourished, Purdue Pharma continued to market Oxycontin to doctors. But no longer. The company said last week that it will stop promoting its opioid drugs to physicians. Along with the move, the opioid drugmaker will lay off 200 salespeople, or more than half its staff.
The company plans to send a letter to doctors Monday notifying them that salespeople will no longer come to their offices to talk about the company’s pain products, according to Bloomberg, which first reported the end to the promoting. It will now answer doctors’ questions about the pain drugs through its medical affairs team.
Citizen petition calls on FDA to pull powerful opioids from market
Citing potential for misuse and overdose, the group argues that the FDA “should immediately seek removal of oral and transmucosal UHDU opioid analgesics from the market.” An FDA representative said the agency "is reviewing the petition and will respond directly to the petitioner." The petition pointed to OxyContin 80 mg, which is typically prescribed twice a day and IR oxycodone 30 mg, which is often prescribed four times a day, as examples.
The development comes as the United States continues to suffer from a opioid and addiction epidemic that’s claiming lives around the country. President Donald Trump recently declared the situation a national emergency. Separately this week, Arizona this week filed suit against embattled Insys Therapeutics, alleging fraudulent marketing to boost sales for fentanyl painkiller Subsys. Three doctors named in the suit were responsible for 64% of Subsys sales in Arizona from March 2012 to April 2017, according to the state. That drugmaker has faced a host of lawsuits and investigations into its promotion of the powerful opioid. On Friday, Insys responded that statements in the Arizona suit "lack context and factual accuracy."
Elsewhere, numerous cities, counties and states have sued various makers of opioid painkillers, with each case adding to the legal expenses of the defendants. Recent lawsuits against opioid companies include one filed this week by Waterbury, Connecticut, against Teva, Purdue, Johnson & Johnson and Endo, according to Westfair Online. There also have been suits filed recently by Missouri, Ohio, and other states. Many lawsuits claim the drugmakers exaggerated the benefits of opioids and downplayed the risks.
In response to the suits, some drugmakers have denied the allegations, while others declined to comment and some said they share concerns about the epidemic. While the citizen petition is calling for the removal of certain opioids, the FDA has already pushed Endo International to pull its Opana ER from the market. The drugmaker caved to FDA pressure in July and said it’d remove the drug that generated $160 million in sales last year. Earlier this summer, the FDA announced plans to take a new look at the risk-benefit profiles of approved opioids in response to the epidemic.
“We have restructured and significantly reduced our commercial operation and will no longer be promoting opioids to prescribers,” Purdue said in a statement. Along with Oxycontin, Purdue also makes the opioid drugs Butrans and Hysingla ER. More than a dozen states, including New York, New Jersey, Alabama and Washington, and more than 100 cities and counties, are suing Purdue over charges it facilitated the U.S. opioid crisis through aggressive marketing. It is also a codefendant, along with Endo International, Johnson & Johnson's Janssen, Teva Pharmaceutical and Allergan, in the opioid marketing investigation underway by 39 states' attorneys general.
In 2016, opioids, including prescription drugs, fentanyl and heroin, killed more than 42,000 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control, with more than 40% of overdose deaths involving a prescription opioid. Deaths from prescription drugs alone have quadrupled since 1999, the CDC reported.
In response to the criticism and legal action, Purdue has insisted its products are lawful and approved products. Meanwhile, it’s said to be looking to cut a global settlement deal to put aside legal claims. Purdue has also pushed a public relations and advertising effort to point out its efforts in the fight against the opioid drug public health problem. A statement on its website echoes advertisements it has placed in print publications such as The Wall Street Journal, leading with the title, “We manufacture prescription opioids. How could we not help fight the prescription and illicit opioid abuse crisis?”
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