Purdue Pharma pleads guilty to its role in the opioid crisis

pharmafile | November 25, 2020 | News story | Research and Development  

Purdue Pharma has pleaded guilty to criminal charges over its role in fueling the opioid crisis which was driven by its prescription painkiller OxyContin. 

In a court hearing in New Jersey, the company pleaded guilty to three felonies covering widespread misconduct. This included conspiring to defraud US officials and pay illegal kickbacks to both doctors and an electronic healthcare records vendor called Practice Fusion, all to help keep opioid prescriptions flowing.

Members of the Purdue family were not involved in the proceedings and have not been criminally charged. In October, Purdue agreed to pay a $225 million civil penalty for the false claims it made to Medicare about OxyContin. 

Purdue Pharma has played a key role in the widespread opioid epidemic. The company filed for bankruptcy back in September 2019 as part of a deal to settle thousands of lawsuits alleging the company misled doctors and the public as it promoted opioids like OxyContin. An exposed 1997 email chain shows Dr Richard Sackler knew about the potential risk of abuse of its opioid products.

While the addictive qualities of OxyContin have been well known for years now, the company has still pushed the drug. Between 2015 and 2018, Purdue provided kickbacks to specialty pharmacies to fill OxyContin prescriptions that were rejected by traditional pharmacies. Purdue would refer patients and prescribers to these specialty pharmacies to have their prescriptions filled, and the company would pay $40 per prescription to call the patient and send them a pre-printed marketing pamphlet. This amounted to the company paying $137,000 for the arrangement, with the pharmacies filing over $2 million in Medicare prescriptions for Purdue opioids over the same time period. 

Purdue also paid doctors serving as corporate advisors and speakers in an effort to promote opioid prescriptions from 2010 through to 2018. Marketing personnel from Purdue would select doctors to retain, and paid corporate advisors and speakers to induce them to prescribe opioids and reward them for prescribing the company’s drugs. Over a five-year time period, the company paid $3 million for advisers and $10 million in speaking fees, in violation of the federal anti-kickback statute.

Conor Kavanagh

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