Purdue Pharma Reportedly Worried About Losing Money To Rivals Amid Oxy Panic

By Kelly Burch 08/01/18

A new report details the early rivalry among opioid drug makers who sought to follow in the profitable footsteps of Purdue Pharma.

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As Purdue Pharma came under fire from federal investigators for unscrupulous advertising practices, the company was reportedly concerned about losing market share to other drug manufacturers, according to internal documents. 

“Market research as well as reports from the sales force indicates that methadone use is increasing in both the management of cancer pain and non-malignant pain due to its low cost,” an internal Purdue memo from 1999 said, according to a report by Kaiser Health News

OxyContin was brought to market in 1996, and by 1999 Purdue was planning to expand sales into the non-cancer market, setting the stage for marketing practices that would later land the company in lawsuits across the country for false and misleading advertising.

As part of the planned expansion, Purdue reportedly analyzed the market for pain medications in internal documents. 

According to these internal documents, one competitor that Purdue was most concerned about was Janssen Pharmaceuticals, the maker of Duragesic, a fentanyl patch.

Purdue noted that Janssen, a part of Johnson & Johnson, was making “slow but steady” progress in marketing the patches.

In fact, Janssen tripled its advertising spending between 1998 and 1999 as regulators and clinicians first became aware of the dangers of OxyContin. Marketing materials from that time included the claims that the patch “has less potential for abuse than other currently available opioids.”

By 2000, the Food and Drug Administration noted that Janssen had disseminated “false or misleading” advertising, including that safety claim.

Despite Purdue’s own claims about the safety of its drugs, the company was allegedly quick to acknowledge the trouble that the competition was in. 

“It has been reported that Janssen sales representatives are using improper techniques to capitalize on the negative press surrounding OxyContin tablets and the issue of abuse and diversion,” Purdue marketing materials noted in 2002. 

At the same time, Purdue noted that methadone was claiming market share for pain patients, despite the 2006 FDA warning of deaths and dangerous side effects in “newly starting methadone for pain control and in patients who have switched to methadone after being treated for pain with other strong narcotic pain relievers.” 

In a statement to Kaiser Health News, Janssen said that the marketing procedures for the fentanyl patch were “appropriate and responsible,” and that the company “acted quickly to investigate and successfully resolve FDA’s inquiries.”

Janssen stopped “actively marketing” Duragesic in 2008. 

Purdue has also denied false or misleading advertising, telling Kaiser, “We vigorously deny these allegations and look forward to the opportunity to present our defense” in a series of lawsuits. 

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