Purdue Pharmaceuticals, maker of the painkiller OxyContin, will cease marketing its opioid products to doctors amidst the deadly opioid epidemic gripping the United States. The company announced in a statement that it had “significantly reduced” its sales force and would no longer send sales representatives to doctors offices to promote its opioid products.

“We have restructured and significantly reduced our commercial operation and will no longer be promoting opioids to prescribers,” the company said in a statement.

According to a report by The Hill:

“Purdue also said it will start referring opioid-related requests and questions from prescribers to health-care professionals in its medical affairs department. 

In a message to health-care professionals, Monica Kwarcinski, the head of Purdue’s medical affairs department, said that the new policies would go into effect on Monday.

“Effective Monday, February 12, 2018, our field sales organization will no longer be visiting your offices to engage you in discussions about our opioid products,” she said.

President Trump declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency in October. 

Many experts have placed blame on the over-prescription of powerful painkillers for the opioid epidemic that has ravaged the country in recent decades.

Several states have filed suits against Purdue Pharma, claiming their longstanding and vigorous marketing campaign deceived doctors and patients about the addiction risk of their flagship product OxyContin. Purdue has denied the claims in these suits, standing behind the FDA’s approval of the drug and arguing that their drugs make up a small percentage of opioid prescriptions.

[RELATED: Opioid “Pill Dumping” Investigated in West Virginia]

The Sackler family owns Purdue Pharma, and has accumulated a fortune estimated at about $14 billion dollars by Forbes in 2015, by distributing the highly addictive— and deadly— opioid painkiller OxyContin as a purportedly non-addictive version of oxycodone.

According to a report featured in the American Journal of Public Health, The Promotion and Marketing of OxyContin: Commercial Triumph, Public Health Tragedy, since the release of OxyContin in 1996, Purdue Pharma has generated estimated sales of over $35 billion dollars. In 1996, the first year available, the drug accounted for about $48 million in sales. By 2000 that number rose to $1.1 billion— an increase of over 2,000 percent. By 2010, OxyContin would account for profits of $3.1 billion.

Regarding claims that Purdue had misled doctors about the highly addictive nature of OxyContin, in 2007, “Purdue and its top executives pleaded guilty to charges that it misled doctors and patients about the addictive properties of OxyContin and misbranded the product as ‘abuse resistant.’”

In fact, Purdue Pharma undertook a strategy of identifying doctors around the country, who prescribed the most pain pills and targeted them with a marketing campaign regarding the “abuse resistant” nature of OxyContin. The campaign was a clear success, as “from 1997 to 2002 prescriptions of OxyContin for non-cancer pain increased almost tenfold.”

Prior to the release of OxyContin, doctors were reluctant to prescribe strong opioids, except for end-of-life palliative care and acute cancer pain, due the addictive nature of these drugs. OxyContin, a patented form of oxycodone which hit the market in 1995, has been claimed to have ushered in the modern era of opioid addiction while simultaneously bringing in billions in profits to Purdue Pharma.

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