Purdue Pharma, which manufactures a range of pain medications such as OxyContin, announced yesterday that it would no longer promote opioid drugs to physicians, and has laid off more than 50 percent of its sales force.
In a statement to The Verge, a Purdue spokesperson says that “we have restructured and significantly reduced our commercial operation and will no longer be promoting opioids to prescribers.” Accordingly, the company has laid off more than 50 percent of its sales force, with the remaining employees focusing on non-opioid products. The company will still handle requests from doctors who have questions about drugs such as OxyContin, through its medical affairs department.
The decision to stop direct marketing to doctors comes following criticism of the company’s role in the ongoing opioid crisis. The company began aggressively marketing OxyContin in 1996 as a superior pain-management drug that would last longer than other medications, which it claimed would lead to less abuse from patients. As a result, the drug was widely prescribed to patients, leaving some addicted and turning to cheaper drugs such as heroin. The result has been a dramatic rise in deaths in recent years, which has in turn driven down life expectancy rates in the country. Last fall, President Trump declared the crisis a public health emergency.
The rising tide of deaths has brought about significant actions to help combat the crisis. The Drug Enforcement Agency reduced the amount of opioid drugs that could be manufacturedin the US by 25 percent in 2016, the CDC issued new guidelines for how to prescribe the drugs to patients, and major insurers said that they won’t cover opioid drug prescriptions in most cases. States have taken other approaches as well, such as mandating digital prescriptions to prevent forgery, or by filing lawsuits against Purdue for its role in the crisis.
Purdue’s decision to halt its marketing for the drug is a step towards reducing the amount of drugs in the marketplace. But this feels like a situation of closing the barn doors after the horse has already galloped away, as the opioid crisis remains in full swing throughout the country.