OxyContin® Manufacturer Deceived Public; Ordered to Pay $600 Million
ABINGDON, VA -- May 18, 2007 -- Purdue Frederick Co., the manufacturer of the painkiller OxyContin®, pleaded guilty to felony charges of misbranding the drug and misleading people about its addictive properties. Under a plea bargain agreement reached with the U.S. attorney in the Western District of Virginia, the company will pay $600 million and three of its executives must pay a total of $35 million. The money will be used for state and federal Medicaid programs, to settle civil claims, to fund investigations and to support a West Virginia drug monitoring program.
OxyContin® Contains Oxycodone
OxyContin® contains pure oxycodone, an opioid used for terminal cancer patients and others with chronic pain. OxyContin® is supposed to release oxycodone slowly. Even with this time-release mechanism, however, the drug can be addictive and causes withdrawal symptoms if the patient abruptly stops taking it. In addition, the time-release mechanism may be circumvented by crushing the tablet and inhaling or injecting the powder, producing an addictive high.
OxyContin® and Purdue's History of Deceit
From late 1995, when OxyContin® was first approved, through June 2001, Purdue Frederick minimized the addictive effects of OxyContin® while collecting $2.8 billion from sales of the drug, according to court documents. Purdue's sales representatives and advertisements falsely suggested that OxyContin® did not cause a "buzz," that it was less addictive than other painkillers such as morphine or Percocet®, and that patients could suddenly stop taking the drug without developing withdrawal symptoms. Sales representative were even allowed to create their own fake graphs that minimized OxyContin®'s potential for abuse.
Under pressure from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Purdue finally sent a letter to doctors in July 2001, stating that OxyContin® had an abuse profile similar to that of morphine. Purdue then placed a prominent boxed warning on the prescribing instructions for OxyContin®, alerting doctors and patients that OxyContin® was a controlled substance with addictive properties.
Despite the new updated prescribing instructions and label, Purdue continued to release misleading advertisements, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office. Two advertisements in medical journals minimized OxyContin®'s risks and overstated its effectiveness because they failed to prominently display the contents of the boxed warning and omitted information about how OxyContin® should be used. The FDA sent a warning letter to Purdue in January 2003 and the company corrected the advertisement. The FDA also commented on misleading data about OxyContin® on Purdue's company web site.
Learning More About OxyContin®
The full text of the GAO report is on the agency's web site. Details of the plea bargain agreement are contained in various files posted on the web site of the court for the Western District of Virginia. You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to open these files. If you do not already have this software, you may download a free copy at the Adobe Acrobat web site.
Brayton Purcell is reviewing cases of patients who were injured by OxyContin® and began using the drug prior to July 2001. Please feel free to contact us for more information and a free evaluation of your potential case.