MAKERS OF OXYCONTIN TO DEVELOP NEW ADDICTION TREATMENT DRUG
For all that the opioid epidemic remains a substantial and deadly problem, there are some programs in place to combat it. One is an effort to give naloxone – an overdose-antidote drug – and training on its use to front-line officers. In North Carolina, there has been funding for pill disposal boxes in pharmacies, clinics, and police stations. In Connecticut, a radio campaign warns of the dangers of opioid abuse. There’s even a new medication to treat opioid-induced constipation. Here’s the thing that’s truly surprising, though – all of these efforts are funded by Purdue Pharma, the company that makes OxyContin. Now, Purdue is taking things one step further and developing a new drug to treat opioid addiction.
OxyContin is the brand name for oxycodone hydrochloride, an opioid painkiller that is widely viewed as the flashpoint for the opioid crisis. It was introduced by Purdue in 1996, and the company made two bold claims while aggressively marketing it to doctors: it would last for 12 hours, more than twice as long as existing generic medications, and the risk of addiction was very small. As we now know, OxyContin is extremely addictive, and as it turns out, it didn’t last anywhere near 12 hours for some people. Purdue’s response to complaints about the drug’s effectiveness? Up the dosage.
There have been many lawsuits regarding OxyContin over the years. In 2004, the West Virginia Attorney General sued Purdue for reimbursement of excessive prescription costs due to their deceptive marketing about the 12 hours of pain relief. The company settled, paying $10 million for programs to discourage drug abuse. In 2007, Purdue pleaded guilty to misleading the public about Oxycontin’s risk of addiction, which cost them $634.5 million in fines. That same year, they paid $19.5 million to 26 states and the District of Columbia for encouraging physicians to overprescribe OxyContin. In 2015, a long-standing case with Kentucky was settled for $24 million. The list goes on, but of particular interest is one case filed by the state of Massachusetts against the multibillionaire Sackler family, which owns Purdue, for knowingly deceiving doctors and the public.
Now, Richard Sackler, former president of the company and a doctor, has been granted a patent for a reformulation of buprenorphine, a milder opioid (that still has the potential to be misused) that is used to control drug cravings. This new formula is a fast-dissolving wafer, which Sackler claims will make the drug harder to misuse. Existing tablets and strips can take seven minutes to dissolve, while the wafer could take only seconds.
Of course, many people are doubting Sackler’s altruism in this new invention, claiming that a family that has already profited greatly from the opioid epidemic (Forbes magazine estimated the Sacklers’ worth in 2015 to be $14 billion) is now attempting to cash in on its solution.
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