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OxyContin maker stops promoting opioids

Attorney General says company has to tell real dangers of drugs

NEW YORK (AP) — The maker of the powerful painkiller OxyContin said it will stop marketing opioid drugs to doctors, bowing to a key demand of lawsuits that blame the company for helping trigger the current drug abuse epidemic.

OxyContin has long been the world’s top-selling opioid painkiller, bringing in billions in sales for privately-held Purdue, which also sells a newer and longer-lasting opioid drug called Hysingla.

The company announced its surprise reversal on Saturday. Purdue’s statement said it eliminated more than half its sales staff this week and will no longer send sales representatives to doctors’ offices to discuss opioid drugs. Its remaining sales staff of about 200 will focus on other medications.

Ohio is among the 250 federal lawsuits filed against pharmaceutical companies and distributors over the nation’s opioid epidemic.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine issued the following statement following Purdue Pharma’s announcement.

“Purdue Pharma‘s announcement that they will no longer send out sales reps to promote OxyContin to doctors is a victory for everyone,” he said. “But, it’s too little, too late. It is a decision that should have been made years ago and should be now made by all other makers of opioid pain medications.”

DeWine said Purdue Pharma and other makers of opioid pain medications fundamentally changed the prescribing culture of doctors in this country, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths and billions of dollars in economic costs.

“They have an obligation to now re-educate the American public and the medical community about the real dangers of these drugs. And, while we are happy they are stopping the lies, it is simply not enough to stop what they were doing,” he said. “they are truly serious about this, they could lead the way in cleaning up the mess they created and pay their fair share to fund desperately needed treatment, prevention education, naloxone, and expansion of the foster care system.”

The OxyContin pill, a time-release version of oxycodone, was hailed as a breakthrough treatment for chronic pain when it was approved in late 1995. It worked over 12 hours to maintain a steady level of oxycodone in patients suffering from a wide range of pain ailments.

But some users quickly discovered they could get a heroin-like high by crushing the pills and snorting or injecting the entire dose at once. In 2010 Purdue reformulated OxyContin to make it harder to crush and stopped selling the original form of the drug.

Purdue eventually acknowledged that its promotions exaggerated the drug’s safety and minimized the risks of addiction.