Purdue Pharma, which manufactures a range of pain medications such as OxyContin, announced yesterday that it would no longer promote opioid drugs to physicians, and has laid off more than 50 percent of its sales force.
OxyContin has always been the world's top-selling opioid painkiller and generated billions in sales for privately-held Purdue.
The company said it is reducing its sales staff by more than half, and that its remaining salespeople will no longer visit doctor's offices to promote their product.
Doctors with opioid-related questions will be directed to its medical affairs department. States including Montana, New Jersey, and Alabama, as well as some cities, have sued Purdue, claiming that the opioid epidemic has reduced lifespans and caused massive social and economic damage.
In 2007, Purdue Pharma and three of its executives pleaded guilty to criminal charges of misrepresenting their product's addictiveness, and paid a total of $635 million in fines. Purdue for years made the case that OxyContin was less addictive than other opioid painkillers, and that the risks of opioid addiction in general were overblown - claims partly rooted in a decades-old anecdotal letter rather than scientific research.
Purdue said in a statement that it "vigorously denies" allegations of misconduct, adding that its products account for only "approximately 2%" of all opioid prescriptions.
On its website, Purdue-which is a privately held company-is positioning itself as still wanting to be a player in pain management going forward. "We are committed to being part of the solution by partnering with local law enforcement, state and local government agencies, and community groups across the country".
The lawsuits accuse the companies of, among other things, misleading prescribers and the public by marketing opioids as a safe substitute for non-addictive pain medications such as ibuprofen.
Figures from the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that one in four people who received prescriptions to opioid drugs such as Oxycontin struggle with addiction.