Did OxyContin Makers Try To Influence The Opioid Commission?

By Kelly Burch 10/23/17

Purdue Pharma sent a five-page letter to opioid commission chair Chris Christie detailing how they think the epidemic should be addressed.

oxycontin sitting on the shelf in a pharmacy.

In 2007, Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty to misbranding OxyContin and paid a $634.5 million fine for the action. The drug manufacturer is largely blamed for fueling the prescription painkiller epidemic.

Now VICE News reports that Purdue sent a five-page letter to the White House’s opioid commission and also met with a member of the commission to discuss how the company believes the opioid epidemic should be addressed, according to documents reviewed by the news outlet. 

“Purdue supports several public policies we believe will help reduce misuse, abuse, and diversion of, addiction to, and fatal overdose from opioid analgesics,” said J. David Haddox, Purdue’s vice president of health policy, in a letter to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who chairs the opioid commission. “To supplement our conversation, I offer these policy options from Purdue, along with ideas for implementing them through executive actions.”

The letter, reportedly sent on June 29, outlined options including limiting the duration for first-time opioid prescriptions, utilizing prescription-monitoring systems and promoting abuse-deterrent pills. Many of those steps were suggested in the opioid commission’s interim report, released July 31.

In addition to the letter, Haddox allegedly met with Bertha Madras, an addiction researcher and professor of psychobiology at Harvard Medical School, who is a member of the commission.

Madras told VICE that she had held an open office hours at a hotel, inviting members of the College on Problems of Drug Dependence to share their opinions about what the commission should do. She said she did not know that a Purdue representative would show up, but since there were no rules for the office hours she spoke with him briefly. 

“A Purdue rep signed up to speak with me. He told me that they 1. currently had 2% of USA market share for opioids and 2. had developed educational programs and outreach for safe prescribing. He handed me brochures on their outreach efforts. After the discussion, I thanked him for the information and moved on to the next person waiting to speak with me,” she said in an email to VICE News

VICE reviewed more than 3,000 pages of documents that contained more than 8,000 public comments received by the opioid commission. Most were from members of the public, but other drug companies also shared their thoughts on how the opioid epidemic should be handled. 

Adapt Pharma, which manufactures the opioid reversal drug Narcan, reportedly suggested to the commission that all first responders carry it, a decision that would give the company roughly $82 million in gross revenue, according to VICE

“We suggest that the opioid commission act to protect law enforcement officers—including the DEA—by equipping them with naloxone as a protective measure against accidental overdose in the course of their duties,” Adapt Pharma reportedly wrote in a letter.

In its interim report, the commission wrote, “We urge you to mandate, with federal assistance, that naloxone be in the hands of every law enforcement officer in the United States.” 

The full letter from Purdue Pharma is available for review on VICE News

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.