Since 2010, prescriptions for OxyContin have fallen 40% in the U.S., which means the network of companies producing and marketing it need to move into new territory.
As part of their excellent investigative series on OxyContin, the L.A. Times has published an extensive report on Mundipharma, which owns OxyContin’s manufacturer, Purdue Pharma. Mundipharma employs doctors all over the world, apparently flying them to retreats to encourage the use of opioids for patients. They are now attempting to move into places that don’t necessarily have the internal structure necessary to deal with potential opioid addiction, such as Latin America, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, according to the paper. Writes the L.A. Times:
In Brazil, China and elsewhere, the companies are running training seminars where doctors are urged to overcome “opiophobia” and prescribe painkillers. They are sponsoring public awareness campaigns that encourage people to seek medical treatment for chronic pain. They are even offering patient discounts to make prescription opioids more affordable.
In an interview with the paper, U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek H. Murthy, warned against the tactics for promoting the use of OxyContin by Mundipharma, which has had dangerous effects in the United States. Murthy said, “Now, in retrospect, we realize that for many the benefits did not outweigh the risks.”
In fact, in 2007, Purdue plead guilty to federal charges of misbranding drugs. They were ordered to pay a fine of $635 million, and the DEA has said that their mishandling of the drug’s marketing made criminal abuse and trafficking of OxyContin much worse. Mundipharma has said it is making an effort not to repeat past mistakes.
Mundipharma uses a group of physicians to promote their interests and battle what they have labeled as “opiophobia,” or the reluctance doctors have towards prescribing pain medication. The United Nations has reported that millions die from cancer and AIDS without treatment for their pain in poor countries, but it is an issue that could be addressed by manufacturing generic morphine for 15 cents a day. This is unappealing to pharmaceutical manufacturers. In comparison, a month’s supply of OxyContin costs hundreds of dollars, which explains to some degree their interest in promoting the drug.
Mundipharma is also reportedly trying to redefine the meaning of chronic pain. Many opioid medications are designed for late stage cancer patients, who likely won’t be using the drug for long. In a series of ads featuring celebrities, OxyContin is suggested for use to fight “back pain, joint aches and other common conditions as a distinct malady.” Critics fear that the expansion of chronic pain’s definition to make it eligible for treatment by a powerful opioid will lead to widespread addiction and mismanagement.
You can read the entire report here.