Purdue Pharma has announced its intentions to stop promoting its opioid drugs to doctors. The company released a statement saying, “We have restructured and significantly reduced our commercial operation and will no longer be promoting opioids to prescribers.”
As a result, the company will be cutting its sales force in half. The move will leave the company with roughly 200 sales representatives in the U.S. The company said, “Going forward, questions and requests for information about our opioid products will be handled through direct communications with … our medical affairs department.”
Purdue Pharma is the maker of OxyContin, a powerful opioid painkiller. OxyContin has generated tens of billions of dollars in revenue for the company over the last two decades. It is estimated that more than 7 million Americans have abused OxyContin since its debut in 1996.
Purdue spent about a decade developing a version of the painkiller that was more difficult to snort, smoke or inject, at a cost of several hundred million dollars. Misuse of OxyContin has fallen since the “abuse-deterrent” pills debuted seven years ago. However, over that same time period there has been a surge in heroin overdoses across the country, indicating that many of those addicted to the pills simply switched to heroin.
Heroin deaths more than tripled from 3,000 in 2010 to 10,500 in 2014. States where OxyContin abuse rates were the highest experienced the largest increases in heroin deaths.
The move comes after years of criticism and mounting lawsuits. The plaintiffs are seeking to hold the company financially responsible for the opioid epidemic sweeping the country. A report published in the New York Times revealed Purdue had extensive evidence pointing to illegal trafficking of its pills but declined to share that information with local law enforcement agencies or reduce the flow of the drugs to suspicious parties.
Purdue’s international arm, known as Mundipharma, has not commented on whether it will continue marketing the drug to doctors outside the United States. Critics say Mundipharma is using the same playbook abroad that Purdue used in the U.S. to increase prescriptions. Purdue simply said that “the other companies operate under different leadership structures, within distinct regulatory environments.”