Opioid crisis Purdue faces scrutiny in Congress
Purdue Pharma is facing questions from a Congressional committee investigating the opioid crisis, opening another round of scrutiny for the embattled maker of OxyContin.
In a letter sent last Thursday to Purdue CEO and President Craig Landau, House Committee on Energy and Commerce members based many of their questions and requests for information on the extent of the company’s knowledge of OxyContin’s role in the opioid epidemic since the drug hit the market in 1996. They cited a recent New York Times article on a confidential U.S. Department of Justice report indicating that the firm knew the drug was being abused as early as 1997.
“While numerous companies are engaged in the manufacture and marketing of opioids in the United States, Purdue Pharma stands apart for its development and subsequent marketing of the extended-release opioid OxyContin,” wrote four of the panel’s top members, including Chairman Greg Walden, R-Oregon, and Ranking Member Frank Pallone Jr., D-New Jersey.
In a statement Monday, Purdue said it would cooperate with the investigation.
“We share Congress’ concern about the opioid crisis and have a number of ongoing initiatives to help address it,” the statement reads. “We are committed to working collaboratively with policy makers to drive solutions toward this complex public health challenge.”
The letter also queried Purdue’s decision in February to stop opioid marketing to medical prescribers. In related moves, Purdue laid off more than half of its sales force in February and the remainder of the division in June.
Other questions in the letter centered on the company’s sales and marketing tactics and its funding of third-party organizations that focus on pain management.
Purdue ranked as the top donor among five pharmaceutical companies that contributed millions of dollars during the past five years to nonprofits supporting large-scale opioid use, according to a report released in February by U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. Purdue neither disputed nor endorsed McCaskill’s findings.
Other documents requested by the committee include an unredacted copy of a deposition of Richard Sackler, a former company president and member of the company that owns the privately held Purdue. The deposition comprises part of a $24 million settlement that Purdue reached with Kentucky in 2015 after the state sued the company.
At the same time, Purdue is grappling with hundreds of lawsuits from local and state governments across the country that accuse the company of fueling the opioid crisis with deceptive marketing of opioids such as OxyContin.
“This letter from Congress seems like a natural extension of the company’s various controversies with the states,” said Robert Bird, a professor of business law at the University of Connecticut. It should be no surprise for the executives at Purdue.”
The committee also sent similar letters to Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, a major manufacturer of the generic opioid Oxycodone and Insys Therapeutics, which makes Subsys, a form of fentanyl that is sprayed under the tongue and intended to treat severe pain in cancer patients.
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