Editorial: Purdue Pharma research offer could do some good

September 11, 2018

Purdue Pharma, known for manufacturing OxyContin and, more recently, for being the subject of lawsuits filed by at least half a dozen states and hundreds of municipalities, now hopes to be known for something else - contributing research toward a lower-cost, life-saving antidote for opioid overdoses.

Some question the motives behind the company’s announcement Wednesday that it would offer a $3.4 million grant to Harm Reduction Therapeutics, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit, to help develop a low-cost naloxone nasal spray. After all, the company’s trademark OxyContin became synonymous with the rampant rural pill abuse that destroyed countless families, landing our country in the midst of the heroin epidemic that continues to claim lives daily.

But whether this move is an honest attempt at chipping away at the problem affecting an entire generation of Americans, or a small gesture of goodwill amid a sea of negative headlines - even some combination of the two - it would be wise to offer support, instead of criticism, to Purdue in regard to its efforts.

Naloxone has helped turn the tide of the opioid epidemic, offering substance abusers a greater likelihood that they will remain alive long enough to pursue treatment for their drug addictions.

Last week, Dr. Michael Kilkenny of the Cabell-Huntington Health Department noted that wider use of the opioid-reversal drug has helped decrease the likelihood that an overdose in Cabell County would be fatal - from a 1 in 3 chance to now an estimated 1 in 8 chance.

First responders, health professionals and even family members and friends of those using drugs all have begun carrying naloxone in recent years. Over the summer, West Virginia’s Department of Health and Human Resources purchased a $1 million supply of naloxone, about 34,000 doses, as part of Gov. Jim Justice’s plan to help combat the opioid crisis.

A dose can range in cost from the approximately $30 bulk rate charged to the state, to closer to $90 for individuals who are obtaining it through local pharmacies or health departments. If pharmaceutical companies and researchers can develop a way to drive down costs even further, it would become easier to get more naloxone into more people’s hands, further stemming the tide of fatal overdoses.

The skepticism greeting Purdue’s recent action is easy to understand. It’s difficult to argue companies such as Purdue didn’t start the opioid epidemic and perhaps even turn a blind eye toward its rapid progression. In federal court in 2007, three top current and former employees for Purdue pleaded guilty to criminal charges, admitting that they had falsely led doctors and their patients to believe that OxyContin was less likely to be abused than other drugs in its class, according to the New York Times.

Maybe the establishment of this research grant is the first of many steps by drug distributors and manufacturers to make partial amends. No, it’s not enough to heal the country from the wounds the drug epidemic has inflicted, and it shouldn’t be enough to buy favor from the judge assigned to determine just how great the impact from those pills has been.

But it’s a small step forward, which is what every plaintiff needs to continue the healing process, and it’s a small effort at redemption for the company that seems to finally be owning up to the outcomes of its decisions over the years.

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