Purdue Pharma’s Richard Sackler ignored OxyContin addiction concerns, new emails show

pharmafile | December 3, 2019 | News story | Manufacturing and Production, Sales and Marketing Opiod, Purdue Pharma, Richard Sackler, opiod crisis 

A recently exposed 1997 email chain shows Dr Richard Sackler, member of the billionaire founding family of Purdue Pharma, knew about the potential abuse of opioids by its clients.

This email exchange was included in over 1,000 pages of Kentucky court records that are now being made public. They offer one of the most complete pictures to date of Sackler’s presence while working inside Purdue. From 1996 to 1999 he was Senior Vice President and was directly involved in guiding the promotional strategy for OxyContin.

Purdue Pharma’s opioid treatments had been mainly used for treating cancer patients but they would switch the focus to more general clientele. In an email chain on the subject of “Merck-Medco”, Ed Gargasz revealed that the higher ups at Merck-Medco were “concerned about abuse in there patients on our products.”

Despite these concerns, Purdue Pharma and Sackler moved ahead with their marketing. Sackler said that the “addiction” objection that Merck Medco has on addiction, may just be a “convenient” way to say no. He said the assumption their products are more addictive could be “obliterated” by the executives creating a “convincing presentation” on the subject.

This email conversation happened during the time Purdue representatives were already marketing their OxyContin to physicians as one that was “less addictive and less subject to abuse and diversion.”

The emails also show Sackler wanted to build excitement for their OxyContin tablets by gaining controversy, writing: “I want to signal the licensing in market for the product around the world, get an audience for our patent infringement suits so that we are feared as a tiger with claws and teeth.”

A lawyer for the Sackler family responded to the newly released emails, saying: “There is nothing improper in the emails”.

Purdue Pharma has played a key role in the widespread opioid epidemic. The email is indicative of their general attitude, as more reports came out about the addictiveness of their products, like OxyContin, and how it was leading to overdoses and death from patients.

Purdue Pharma filed for bankruptcy back in September, as part of a deal to settle thousands of lawsuits alleging the company misled doctors and the public as it promoted opioids like OxyContin.

Overdoses have passed car crashes and gun violence to become the leading cause of death for Americans under 55, and the epidemic has killed more people than H.I.V. at the peak of that disease. Every 11 minutes, another life is lost. Nearly 400,000 people have died overall, and it has put a massive strain on local services. The total economic cost of the crisis could range from $50 billion to over $1 trillion.

Conor Kavanagh

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