OxyContin manufacturer Purdue to stop marketing opioids to physicians, laid off half of sales staff: 7 key insights

OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma will stop marketing opioid drugs to physicians, bowing to lawsuits that blame the company's sales efforts for helping trigger the current opioid epidemic, the Chicago Tribune reports.

Here are seven things to know:

1. On Saturday, Feb. 10, Purdue reported eliminating more than half its sales staff and will stop sending sales representatives to doctors' offices to discuss opioid drugs. The company's remaining sales staff of about 200 will focus on other medications.

2. When it was approved in late 1995, the OxyContin pill, a time-release version of oxycodone, was hailed as a breakthrough chronic pain treatment. The pill maintained a steady level of oxycodone in pain patients for over 12 hours. Some users found they could get a heroin-like high by crushing the pills and snorting or injecting the entire dose at once.

3. In 2007, the company and three executives agreed to pay more than $600 million for misleading the public about OxyContin's risks.

4. In 2010, Purdue reformulated OxyContin to make more difficult to crush and stopped selling the drug in its original form.

5. Andrew Kolodny, MD, the director of opioid policy research at Waltham, Mass.-based Brandeis University, said that Purdue's decision to stop marketing OxyContin to physicians was helpful, but other opioid drug companies must follow suit in order to create lasting change.

6. Purdue and other opioid drugmakers and distributors face hundreds of local and state lawsuits aiming to hold the industry accountable for the drug overdose epidemic. The lawsuits say drug companies misled physicians and patients about opioid risks by using "front groups" and "key opinion leaders" who oversold the benefits of opioids and encouraged overprescribing. Dr. Kolodny is serving as an expert advising the court in those lawsuits.

7. U.S. deaths linked to opioids have quadrupled since 2000 to roughly 42,000 in 2016 —about 115 lives lost per day. Although initially driven by prescription drugs, most opioid deaths now involve illicit drugs including heroin and fentanyl.

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