#5: Oxycontin: Perception and Reality

March 8, 2019 Archived Blog Posts

Harry Anslinger, the first commissioner of the US Treasury Department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics once said, “I’ve made up my mind…don’t confuse me with the facts.” Harry’s words often flash before my eyes as I speak with clinics throughout the country. Purdue Pharma did such a criminally good job marketing Oxycontin in the late 90’s through the early 2,000’s many providers made up their minds, and refused to be confused by the facts. “When truth is blurred by lies and misinformation, perception becomes reality and all is lost.”

Let’s examine some facts. In 1972, Purdue Pharma, the makers of Hydromorphone, Oxycodone, Fentanyl, Codeine and Hydrocodone, developed Contin, a controlled drug release system. In 1996 Purdue Pharma introduced Oxycontin, a sustained-release oxycodone preparation. Purdue Pharma’s sales grew from $48 million in 1996 to almost $1.1 billion in 2000. By 2004 Oxycontin had become a leading drug of abuse in the US. How could this happen? Remember the last quote in the first paragraph regarding perception? From 1996 to 2001 Purdue Pharma conducted more than 40 national pain-management and speaker training seminars which were attended by more than 5000 healthcare providers. They started to bonus their sales reps based on the number of Oxycontin scripts providers wrote. In 2001 the average sales rep’s bonus above their annual salary was $71,500 with some bonuses reaching $240,000. Fueled by an unprecedented promotion and marketing campaign over 14 million prescriptions for Oxycontin were written in 2001 and 2002. By 2002, Oxycontin accounted for 68% of all Oxycodone sales. (Go to Youtube Purdue pharma oxycontin commercial done in 1998 by Dr Alan Spanos to get a feel for their sales pitch.) Purdue Pharma sold the perception that by releasing the Oxycodone over 12 hours it was not as addictive as the single Oxycodone pills and the providers bought into this. The fact is Oxycodone is approximately twice as potent as Morphine! In other words 10 mg of Oxycodone is equivalent to 15-20 mg of Morphine. Yet due to perception (there it is again) we have more fear of Morphine than Oxycodone. This blog doesn’t begin to give me the space to pontificate in the manner I would like, so I will leave you with a few more tidbits.

 In 2007 Purdue Pharma paid $600 million in a settlement after pleading guilty to misleading the public about Oxycontin’s risk of addiction. They paid West Virginia $10 million in 2004. They settled with the state of Kentucky in 2015 for $24 million. As of January 2019, 39 other states are suing Purdue Pharma and some have included the Sackler family who own Purdue Pharma. Although the perception is Purdue will be severely punished the reality is their earnings went from $31 billion in 2016 to $35 billion in 2017. Huh?

 Kiss your loved ones. Do something nice for someone today, and as a friend of mine recently said, “Life is short, don’t sip!” Thank you all for your business.

 Lance C Benedict
 President/CEO Industry Lab Diagnostic Partners