How Purdue Pharma Hooked America on a Deadly Drug

Yves here. This isn’t the first telling of Purdue Pharma’s orchestrated campaign to ramp up sales of OxyContin, including misrepresenting the risks of addiction and identifying doctors who could be persuaded to prescribe the medication heavily, but it is a story that cannot be told too often.

By Fred Schulte, a four time Pulitzer Prize finalist who has worked at the Baltimore Sun, the South Florida Sun Sentinel and the Center for Public Integrity. Originally published at Kaiser Health News

Purdue Pharma left almost nothing to chance in its whirlwind marketing of its new painkiller OxyContin.

From 1996 to 2002, Purdue pursued nearly every avenue in the drug supply and prescription sales chain — a strategy now cast as reckless and illegal in more than 1,500 federal civil lawsuits from communities in Florida to Wisconsin to California that allege the drug has fueled a national epidemic of addiction.

Kaiser Health News is releasing years of Purdue’s internal budget documents and other records to offer readers a chance to evaluate how the privately held Connecticut company spent hundreds of millions of dollars to launch and promote the drug, a trove of information made publicly available here for the first time.

All of these internal Purdue records were obtained from a Florida attorney general’s office investigation of Purdue’s sales efforts that ended late in 2002.

I have had copies of those records in my basement for years. I was a reporter at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, which, along with the Orlando Sentinel, won a court battle to force the attorney general to release the company files in 2003. At the time, the Sun-Sentinel was writing extensively about a growing tide of deaths from prescription drugs such as OxyContin.

We drew on the marketing files to write two articles, including one that exposed possible deceptive marketing of the drug. Now, given the disastrous arc of prescription drug abuse over the past decade and the stream of suits being filed — more than a dozen on some days — it seemed time for me to share these seminal documents that reveal the breadth and detail of Purdue’s efforts.

Asked by Kaiser Health News for comment on the OxyContin marketing files and the suits against the company, Purdue Pharma spokesman Robert Josephson issued a statement that reads in part:

“Suggesting activities that last occurred more than 16 years ago, for which the company accepted responsibility, helped contribute to today’s complex and multi-faceted opioid crisis is deeply flawed. The bulk of opioid prescriptions are not, and have never been, for OxyContin, which represents less than 2% of current opioid prescriptions.”

The marketing files show that about 75 percent of more than $400 million in promotional spending occurred after the start of 2000, the year Purdue officials told Congress they learned of growing OxyContin abuse and drug-related deaths from media reports and regulators. These internal Purdue marketing records show the drugmaker financed activities across nearly every quarter of medicine, from awarding grants to health care groups that set standards for opioid use to reminding reluctant pharmacists how they could profit from stocking OxyContin pills on their shelves.

Purdue bought more than $18 million worth of advertising in major medical journals that cheerily touted OxyContin. Some of the ads, federal officials said in 2003, “grossly overstated” the drug’s safety.

The Purdue records show that the company poured more than $8 million into a website and venture called “Partners Against Pain,” which helped connect patients to doctors willing to treat their pain, presumably with OxyContin or other opioids.

It made and distributed 14,000 copies of a video that claimed opioids caused addiction in fewer than 1 percent of patients, a claim Food and Drug Administration officials later said “has not been substantiated.”

Purdue hoped to grow into one of the nation’s top 10 drug companies, both in sales and “image or professional standing,” according to the documents; OxyContin was the means to that end.

Purdue first marketed the drug for cancer pain but planned to expand that use to meet its multimillion-dollar sales goals. In 1998, the market for treating cancer with opioids stood at $261 million, compared with $1.3 billion for treating other types of pain, the Purdue reports note.

Purdue’s OxyContin sales objectives were clearly stated in the earliest marketing plan in the records, for 1996. It sought $25 million in sales and to generate 205,000 prescriptions. By the next year, its goals had tripled: $77.9 million in sales and to generate 600,000 prescriptions.

Purdue bombarded doctors and other health workers with literature and sales calls. Records show that in 1997 the company budgeted $300,000 for mailings to doctors who prescribed opioids liberally, based on sales data that drug companies purchase. The mailers recommended OxyContin for “pain syndromes,” including osteoarthritis and back pain. It added $75,000 for mailings “to keep in touch with our best customers for OxyContin to ensure they continue prescribing it.”

Sales agents made thousands of visits to general practice doctors and others who had little training or experience using potent opioids, according to a 2003 Government Accountability Office audit. The OxyContin slogan in 1999 was: “The One to Start With and the One to Stay With.” OxyContin earned Purdue about $2.8 billion in revenue from the start of 1996 through June 2001, according to the Justice Department.

In May 2000, Purdue’s hope to conquer the arthritis market hit a snag when the FDA criticized an ad for OxyContin in the New England Journal of Medicine. The FDA said the ad, which Purdue Pharma agreed to stop using, overstated the drug’s benefits for treating all types of arthritis without pointing out risks.

News reports of abuse and overdose deaths also were surfacing. Purdue’s 2001 marketing document noted that OxyContin had “experienced significant challenges” the year before because of abuse and unlawful diversion in Maine, Ohio, Virginia, Louisiana and Florida.

OxyContin pills contain oxycodone, an opioid as potent as morphine and maybe more so. Abusers quickly figured out they could crush the pills and snort or inject the dust

In response, Purdue’s 2001 marketing budget included funding to help doctors recognize patients who were in need of “substance abuse counseling” and do more to “prevent abuse and diversion.” It added $1.2 million in spending for what it called “anti-diversion” efforts in 2002, according to the internal records.

Potent Sales Force

In 2002, The Florida attorney general’s office was one of the first law enforcement agencies to investigate Purdue. The state ended its probe after Purdue agreed to pay Florida $2 million to help fund a data system to monitor narcotics prescriptions. It did not admit to any wrongdoing in the settlement.

Yet handwritten notes of a state investigator’s interview with a former Purdue sales manager for West Virginia and western Pennsylvania named Bill Gergely, then 58, suggested otherwise. The notes were part of the documents released by the state.

Gergely, who worked for the company from 1972 until 2000, said Purdue executives told sales staff at a launch meeting that OxyContin “was non-habit forming,” according to the undated investigator’s notes. Gergely said Purdue gave its sales force material — some of which was not approved by the FDA — for “education,” the notes show. He told the investigator that Purdue had a bonus system and paid well; the last year he worked for Purdue, Gergely earned $238,000.

As Purdue charged ahead with OxyContin, prescription pills overtook illegal drugs like heroin and cocaine as killers in Florida, according to medical examiner files. In May 2002, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel documented nearly 400 pill deaths in three South Florida counties the previous two years, based on an examination of autopsy and police records.

Half the deaths involved drugs that contained oxycodone, according to medical examiner records. But it was not always clear in these records that it was OxyContin because oxycodone was an ingredient in many other narcotic pills. In 70 of the deaths, however, police or medical examiner records specifically identified OxyContin as one of the drugs. Though some people who died bought pills on a thriving black market, many were under the care of doctors for what appeared, at least at some point, to be legitimate injuries, according to medical examiner files.

Purdue did not challenge the accuracy of the newspaper’s reporting. It countered that the articles “did a disservice” to the company and patients who take their medicine “according to the directions of their doctors.” While the company said its executives “deeply regret the tragic consequences that have resulted from the misuse and abuse of our pain medicine … advances in the treatment of pain should not be limited or reversed because some people illegally divert, abuse or misuse these drugs.”

To its sales force, the internal Purdue records show, Purdue blamed bad press for cutting into sales. “The media’s attention to abuse and diversion of OxyContin tablets has provided state Medicaid plans and some HMOs, concerned about the effect the product is having on their budget, an excuse to look for ways to limit the prescribing of OxyContin tablets,” the 2002 marketing document said.

But five years after its legal battle with Florida officials, Purdue made a startling admission in federal court in Virginia. The company pleaded guilty in 2007 to felony charges of “misbranding” OxyContin “with the intent to defraud or mislead.” The company paid $600 million in fines and other penalties. Among the deceptions it confessed to was directing its salespeople to tell doctors the drug was less addictive than other opioids.

Three Purdue Pharma executives pleaded guilty to misdemeanor criminal charges for their roles in the marketing scheme. The three men paid a total of $34 million in fines and penalties, court records show. Accepting Purdue’s plea deal, U.S. District Judge James P. Jones noted that federal prosecutors believed the Purdue case of 2007 would send a “strong deterrent message to the pharmaceutical industry.”

A Costly Reckoning?

Ten years on, the 1,500-plus lawsuits, filed mostly on behalf of cities, counties and states, could prove to be a costly reckoning for the opioid industry. The suits are demanding payback from Purdue and other drugmakers for the sky-high costs of treating addiction and other compensation, much as the litigation against Big Tobacco in the late 1990s.

Other drug makers named as defendants in most of the suits include those that Purdue considered to be its top competitors in the pain sector: Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Endo International PLC and Mallinckrodt PLC.

Federal officials estimate the economic cost of opioid abuse topped $500 billion in 2015 alone. Since 1999, at least 200,000 people have died in the U.S. from these overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 52,000 of those died in 2015 alone, more than were killed in car crashes and gun homicides combined, the suits contend.

A case filed in April by Baltimore County in Maryland makes an argument common to many of the suits:

“From the mid-’90s to the present, manufacturing defendants aggressively marketed and falsely promoted liberal opioid prescribing as presenting little to no risk of addiction, even when used long term for chronic pain. They infiltrated academic medicine and regulatory agencies to convince doctors that treating chronic pain with long-term opioids was evidence-based medicine when, in fact, it was not.

“Huge profits resulted from these efforts — as did the present addiction and overdose crisis.”

Purdue has not yet filed a response to the allegations in the suit.

Other drug manufacturers “emulated Purdue’s false marketing strategy” and sold billions of dollars of prescription opioids “as safe and efficacious for long term use, knowing full well that they were not,” Wisconsin’s Oneida County alleges in its November 2017 federal court suit. Purdue also has not yet filed a response to the allegations in this suit.

But Purdue spokesman Josephson told KHN: “We share public officials’ concern about the opioid crisis, and we are committed to working collaboratively toward meaningful solutions. We vigorously deny these allegations and look forward to the opportunity to present our defense.”

One California doctor who was sentenced to 25 years in prison for overprescribing OxyContin is also suing Purdue. Masoud Bamdad alleges that the company’s representatives made sales calls and gave him “deceitful, misleading and over-hyped information,” which he relied on to prescribe the drug, in some cases with deadly consequences for his patients, according to the suit, which is pending. Purdue has asked that the case be stayed while judges decide if it should be consolidated with others filed against the company. In February, Purdue announced that it would no longer promote opioids to doctors.

Because the lawsuits from across the U.S. contain similar allegations, many of them have been consolidated in Ohio – as a multi-district litigation. Some days, federal court dockets log a dozen or more new cases. Many of the suits run a hundred pages or more and allege that deceptive opioid marketing schemes continue to this day.

The manufacturers, in a joint court motion late last year, contend that opioids “serve a critical public health role in providing relief to patients suffering from pain that is often debilitating” and that they are being wrongly blamed.

They also point out that the FDA approved all of their products as “safe and effective.”

This month, the manufacturers filed motions to dismiss several of the cases, arguing that the county governments lack a legal basis for their claims. In seeking to blame the drugmakers, these lawsuits ignore “the criminal acts of third parties, the crucial role of health care providers, and the thorny public policy questions surrounding the problem of opioid abuse,” reads a motion to dismiss a case filed by Monroe County, Mich., against Purdue Pharma and other drug companies.

Dan Polster, the federal judge handling the cases, told an overflow crowd in his courtroom that the opioid epidemic has become so severe, that it is cutting the average life expectancy of Americans.

“I’m pretty ashamed that this has occurred while I have been around,” he said in January, adding “I think we all should be.”

Visit Purdue And The OxyContin Files, which contain Purdue’s internal budget documents from 1996 to 2002 — files released by the Florida attorney general’s office — that detail the company’s early strategy to sell and expand use of the drug.

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  1. The Rev Kev

    It’s a pity that Purdue Pharma couldn’t have spent some of their billions on developing a pain medication that was not addictive. They could have marketed that until the end of time. You have to give the devil his due. Having a business model where you develop a drug to deal with pain in 21st century America – it’s like having your own money printing press.

    1. Scott1

      Even if they did invent a non addicting pain medication I personally would still be addicted to it.

      As it is for people in my circumstances the phrase “Debilitating Pain” is a reality, nothing theoretical about it. Not just a phrase in a phamplet. I am in pain all the time.

      My tolerance increases and there is no willingness on the part of my doctor to prescribe higher dosages to offset the loss of efficacy, in this current political climate. I become more disabled.

      It is hopheads and blockheads that run my world. I am treated like criminal because I got old and sick.

      People such as I represent a large population required to provide piss on demand. Pain medicines that are effective are opioids and they will be denied if pot is found in my piss. I have no doubt that the piss testing industry lobbies against federal legalization of marijuana.

      I have been through morphine withdrawal once already. The system knows where I am, what I am prescribed, and how to hurt me. Some in my situation kill themselves. Disabling pain is expressed in total as a desire to die.

      Marijuana as hash oil helps some with seizures. I take a pill 4 times a day so that I am not spastic and can sleep. Hash oil as medically used for that purpose is more effective for some than what i have to take, or be a spastic, and never sleep.

      There was installed a titanium bridge in my neck to prevent paralysis from the neck down, and afterwards I became spastic. The hash oil as medicine is understood to work for youths with epilepsy.

      It is not legal in the State I live in.

      I am trapped where I am. Anywhere I go I must find an affordable medical system willing to treat me for the debilitating pain and other issues I have, that will not get better.

      Since I got MERSA any other operations that might help me are out of the question. I’m only going to get worse and then die. Sherman Williams makes an expensive pain that kills that bacteria that nearly killed me. Now the operating room of the hospital where I have been operated on, a lot, is painted with that paint. A good thing aye?

      I am grateful to FDR and I am Grateful for Medicare.

      I believe the CDC, Center for Disease Control ought be understood as part of Defense, the number 1 responsibility of all legitimate governments, as important as weapons systems and soldiers, personnel of the DOD. Just because it is small and invisible to the naked eye, doesn’t mean it isn’t out to kill your nation’s population. There are no surviving Haitians. 90 percent of the American Indians were killed by small pox.

      I am angry at people who are so ignorant they think opioids are recreational drugs and then kill themselves using them.

      Far as recreational drugs there is really only marijuana. It is not particularly addictive, and no one dies from it. It has medicinal properties.

      Stem cell therapies offer some degree of potential actual cure for people like me, with the disease I have. So for others, later, maybe life won’t be made so extra painful by the system. Laws may change. Cures may be developed.

      Meantime the system is hard on me, and people with the same diseases. Hopheads and blockheads rule my life. I was doing pretty good till I got sick.

      “It’s a great life if you don’t weaken.” John Dos Passos “The Big Money”

  2. Kk

    Surely having an additive pain-killing medicine is even better financially? Who would have thought people would use it to kill themselves…..

  3. Ian Perkins

    If you ask me, the regulators deserve at least as much blame.
    It’s only to be expected that pharmaceutical companies will hype the safety and efficacy of their products.
    Regulators, on the other hand, are supposed to critically examine such claims. A non-addictive opiod painkiller has been the holy grail of research for a hundred years. Morphine was touted as a cure for opium addiction, followed by heroin for morphine addiction.
    Alarm bells should have sounded when Purdue et al claimed addiction would not ensue from mass marketing of oxycodone, and they should have been asked to produce some serious evidence to back those claims.
    Were the regulators naive and ignorant, asleep at the wheel, or in the pay of the pharmaceutical industry?

    1. YankeeFrank

      “It’s only to be expected that pharmaceutical companies will hype the safety and efficacy of their products.”

      First of all, you are drastically minimizing what they did. They didn’t merely “hype the safety and efficacy” of opiates. They lied and distorted the facts to claim up is down and black is white. Lies that directly led to hundreds of thousands dead and millions of families broken apart. Opiates are highly addictive. Period.

      The idea that a company is within its rights and that we should expect them to lie and kill people on a massive scale is utterly reprehensible and morally bankrupt. Capitalism is in the process of killing our planet and poisoning humanity. If we don’t impose heavy moral standards on corporations we are done. This kind of excuse making for corporate sociopathy has to end.

      1. Ian Perkins

        It’s hardly excuse making. The fact that I don’t expect any better from them does not mean that I think they’re within their rights.

    2. Kevin

      going after the pharmaceutical companies is 2nd level approach – first level; hold regulators accountable for not doing their jobs.

  4. Dan

    I’m no fan of pharma, but what kills me is these “journalists” who just mosey along behind the lawsuits and discovery files for sensational headlines that everyone already knows about. (And by the way, how much money will private law firms make on these suits filed “on behalf” of states and cities?)

    Why not focus on the pharma profiteering going on every day? Medical societies in the last year have changed the guidelines for HCV testing and blood pressure. Now there is widespread testing of people for HCV who have no behavioral risk factors. Why? Now doctors are being told the healthy range for blood pressure is lower than it was just a year ago. Why?

    If you look at the medical panels making those recommendations you will find that the physicians involved are what drug companies call ‘thought leaders’ or ‘influencers.’ They are actively looking for patients who can be charged for expensive, on-patent medications. As the health care industry implodes, we are wasting millions and millions on these unnecessary practices.

    It is the same game that was played more than 20 years ago when regulators began scoring hospitals and doctors for “pain management,” which paved the way for Purdue Pharma and its counterparts.

    And this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to pharma and its tactics. How about some reporters start doing some reporting, not just building pressure for large settlements that will benefit ambulance chasing law firms?

    1. orange cats

      I love this.

      Reporters don’t investigate, regulators don’t regulate, doctors invent conditions, pharma goes in for the kill. And the myopia will result in a draconian curtailment of pain medication for legitimate reasons.

    2. orangecats

      Bingo. Big pharma isn’t the entire story or the only villain. Reporters don’t report, they repeat, regulators don’t regulate, doctors invent conditions to medicate, and pharma surfs in for the kill. This myopia will change nothing except for a draconian curtailment of pain meds for legitimate reasons.

  5. Steve Ruis

    As to the “regulators” I heard a long piece on NPR radio last year from a former DEA agent who sniffed out the criminality of several “pharmacies” in Florida which were doing huge “Oxy” deals out the back door (they had priors for doing the same thing). When he filed his case with the agency, it went nowhere. Puzzled, he looked into it and found that his superiors had been told to “go slow” in such prosecutions. A federal court judge he queried was wondering what had happened to the case flow in his court as the drug-related cases had almost dried up.

    A sympathetic congressman sponsored legislation in the House of Reps to get the DEA back on track, but that bill was quashed and the DEA agent told that he ought to mind his own business. Another bill was passed that made investigations such as the one that was described off limits to the DEA. This was on Obama’s watch and is another sign that money has captured the Congress.

      1. JBird

        ‘Cause the perps have the money to give political bribes donations while the many, many, many victims should either now enrich the Prison-Law Enforcement-Legislative Industrial Complex or just die like the Deplorables that they are.

    1. flora

      This is one reason why torts cases and class action injury law suits are necessary: In the US, too often it’s only when a company loses a big effing injury class action case that they clean up their act or correct a wrong. FDA and other regulators are too often captured or asleep at the wheel.

  6. kiwi

    The government should confiscate property from Purdue and the Sackler family to pay for all of the expenses related to the drug. And I mean all of the expenses -from the care Limbaugh had to receive, all of the detox programs/centers costs, all of the lawsuit expenses, government expenses – everything.

    I don’t even know that confiscate would be the right word – these people need to make reparations for the damage they have done.

  7. Carla

    Capitalistic medicine is SO Fucked. The federal judge in Cleveland is looking to settle all the lawsuits. I have written him in protest. Don’t have access right now but when I can, I will post his name & address so others can protest as well.

    1. Carla

      Judge Dan Aaron Polster
      Carl B. Stokes United States Court House
      801 West Superior Avenue, Courtroom 18B
      Cleveland, Ohio 44113-1837

      In part, I wrote to him:

      “I have been increasingly concerned to read in the press and hear on the news that you are focused on a quick settlement of what appears to be the largest and most complex case ever to come before a U.S. Federal Court.

      The Guardian quotes you thus: “People aren’t interested in depositions, and discovery, and trials. My objective is to do something meaningful to abate this crisis and to do it in 2018.”
      You may be correct that people “aren’t interested in depositions, and discovery…” But Judge Polster, I will tell you what the American people ARE interested in: JUSTICE.

      And a quick settlement of the most complicated case ever to come before a federal court will have nothing to do with justice. Simple common sense tells me that – how could an esteemed federal judge miss it?

      Dollar settlements do not result in justice. 50,000 Americans killed by opioids in 2015, and all you’re seeking is a speedy resolution?”

      Here’s the link to The Guardian article to which I refer in my letter to Polster:

    2. DHG

      And I have been taking 3 hydrocodone pills a day for 5 years, no less and no more. I have no addiction to it just like I had no addiction to alcohol and smoking. Addiction is all in the mind and once I make up my mind to stop something its over and without withdrawal. So now what am I going to do when the rest of you kill me off?? Without my pills I dont walk and I am legally disabled. I fully intend to send all my medical bills to the state treasurer here in Michigan for all the tripe one needs to go through now to get these pills and I will sue them for non payment. Truth is none of ya give a damn anyway.

  8. Newton Finn

    I’m curious, and deeply concerned, about how a friend of mine, who recently took his own life, fits into this seemingly one-sided discussion of opioid medicine. For years he had suffered from chronic and debilitating pain. He had tried numerous medicines and alternative therapies to alleviate his constant suffering, but it was not until a doctor put him on Oxycontin that he was able to find any substantial relief and was finally able to function in even a semi-normal manner. Then a year or so ago, his doctor stopped his Oxycontin prescription cold turkey, due, I suspect, to the massive negative publicity that opioid meds had been and still are receiving. From that point on, I watched him struggle with his resurgent pain and slowly deteriorate. No amount of friendship and support that I could offer him seemed to make a difference and be able to lift his spirits. Now I will be attending his memorial service in early July. There is no doubt in my mind, nor was there in his, that he was significantly helped by Oxycontin. Indeed, you might say that his life was saved for a good number of years by this medication, which he always used responsibly according to his prescription. My fear is that many more sufferers like him will fall victim to a meat-ax approach to Oxycontin and other opioid medicines. Yes, there is a horrible problem with the over-prescription and misuse of these meds, and certainly drug companies have irresponsibly pushed them to make obscene profits. But for many like my friend, these medicines can make the difference between a life worth living and the agonized decision to end it all. Some balance in this discussion, grounded in compassion for, in Schweitzer’s words, “the brotherhood of those who bear the mark of pain,” seems sorely to be needed.

    1. ambrit

      Not to fear brother. The ‘backlash’ against legal access to the powerful pain killers is already ongoing. I encountered this recently with my dental imbroglio. Curiously, or perhaps not so, the ‘backlash’ and restriction of pain medication ‘legal’ access seems centered on the lower classes. The wealthier cohorts could always gain access to whatever they wanted through the mediating influence of their superior access to resources; ie. money. Some evidence suggests that the Big Pharma companies were witting of the ‘pushing underground’ of the supply and demand for the serious painkillers. The cases of the pharmacies in out of the way places like rural West Virginia being shipped many times more ‘serious’ pain medication doses than the attendant population would seem to warrant, point to a strategy of feeding the ‘underground’ economy of pain medications.
      The unfortunate cases of those like your friend who are damaged as a side effect of the overall back and forth of the pain medication campaigns are seen a collateral damage by the forces carrying out the contest. Basically, the Big Pharma doesn’t care about the patients except as profit centres while the anti-drugs zealots view the patients as cannon fodder to be expended in pursuit of their goals.
      This is a Neo-liberal Perfect Storm. Storms wreck things. To the Neo-liberal Dispensation, people are ‘things.’ Thus, if people are wrecked, to the Neo-liberals, so what?
      More later. Time for lunch.

    2. YankeeFrank

      I’m sorry for your friend, and for you having to go through that experience. And I completely agree that opiates can be a lifesaving medicine.

      Your friend’s experience shows the reaction to Purdue’s criminality has its own destructive aspects. Purdue didn’t lie about opiates to help your friend, and the response that took them away from your friend is just as much their fault as the overdoses their lies led to. Doctors need to be able to prescribe these medicines without fear. Lies from pushers like the Sacklers and threats from the DEA should have no place in the relationship between doctors and patients.

  9. JimTan

    It’s worth noting that this is not the first time the Sackler family made a ton of money selling a highly addictive drug. Their first fortune came from Arthur Sackler’s marketing of Valium which started in the 1960’s. According to an article in Esquire:

    “In the 1960s, Arthur (Sackler) was contracted by Roche to develop an advertising strategy for a new antianxiety medication called Valium…..The campaign was such a success that for a time Valium became America’s most widely prescribed medication – the first to reach more than $100 million in sales. Arthur, whose compensation depended on the volume of pills sold, was richly rewarded, and he later became one of the first inductees into the Medical Advertising Hall of Fame.”

    Valium became a widely abused drug from the 1960’s through the 1980’s that was described in the obituary of its inventor as:

    “The lifestyle pill with the trademark V became a cultural icon shortly after it was approved for use in 1963. Doctors simply called it V, but it became known as “doll” after it was highlighted in Jacqueline Susann’s 1966 bestseller Valley of the Dolls, whose female characters popped the pill to deaden the strains of New York city life. Before long it was, for many, the pill of choice. The Rolling Stones fuelled the drug’s popularity with Mother’s Little Helper, which described the urgent comforts the pill could provide. And provide it did. Prescriptions soared, and between 1969 and 1982, it was the most common prescription drug in America. At its peak in 1978, nearly 2.3bn pills were sold. The drug, a potent tranquilliser that acts as a muscle relaxant and is effective in treating sleep and anxiety disorders, developed a high-profile user base. Andy Warhol was reportedly a fan; Elvis Presley had substantial amounts in his system when he was found dead at Graceland. And Dr Sternbach himself also admitted to popping the odd V.”

    And in a strange twist that seems eerily familiar to what is going on today, it appears that in 1979 congress actually held hearings on the dangers of Valium addiction and abuse.

  10. Bernard

    Heh Isn’t America Great or what?

    Capitalism at its’ finest!

    but, but, but!!! Markets!!!

  11. Sid_finster

    Funny that this article should come out today. I was thinking of the doctors and researchers, paid handsomely on behalf of The Tobacco Institute, to insist up and down that cigarette smoking was in no way linked with cancer, then the fallback position that secondhand smoke had no discernable health effects.

    These were respected professionals, with genuine academic credentials to their names, people who were born with much talent and on whom much educational resources were lavished. People who had comfortable, even luxurious lives before.

    And these people took those undeniable gifts and betrayed everything and every trust that they were given, lying through their teeth, standing up and lying, even perjuring themselves (I know, perjury is only sometimes wrong, but I am old fashioned), with a straight face.

    What does it take? Do there but for the grace of God go I?

  12. rd

    Given the millions of people who have been jailed for minor drug offences, the key executives from Purdue Pharma and other companies that marketed these opiates should see a decade or more in prison. This is probably the worst double-standard in the country today and is a serious burden on our economy and society. The more serious the white-collar crime, the less likely they are to do time.

  13. Inode_buddha

    You know what bugs me the most about the situation is the so-called conservative stance on regulatory capture. Unanimously, the conservatives I know always blame the politicians for taking bribes (campaign contributions). They never blame the lobbyists or the companies that hire them. That one-sided-ness is what is so infuriating.

    1. Daryl

      They also ignore that the government is so thoroughly captured that the politicians are the lobbyists, and the lobbysts are the politicians. They are not a separate group of people.

      1. JBird

        Very good point as it is routine for regulators, lobbyists, politicians, corporate employees/management, and even military officers to switch from one to the other, often multiple times, and make decisions based on future employment.

  14. Larry Coffield

    A more holistic perspective would note the worst impact from corporate drug trafficking is that oxycontin and other pricey opioids instantiated the gateway to heroin epidemicity via the Afghan pipeline. Since 2011 heroin with enlaced fentanyl have been the primary growth sector and source of overdoses.

    The opiate scourge has only begun to snowball. There is no way to cashier this epidemic without law reform that medicalizes the dispensation of heroin to accommodate addicts and the politically discarded who suffer with intractable pain.

    The real root cause of this heroin scourge is the drug war: criminogenic prohibition engendering profit motives that law enforcement valorizes with phantom risks for wholesale suppliers. If the problem is viewed as deviant capitalism rather than deviant behavior. then one can see the absurdity of a self-serving bureaucracy navigated by Wall St. waging a fake drug war against laissez-faire capitalism.

    If NC is interested in how to eliminate this epidemic, I would glad to submit the correct approach for profit demotivation.

    1. Doug Hillman

      Do tell.

      Coincidence theorists dissociate a number of precisely concurrent phenomena: the opioid-addiction epidemic, the Global War on Terra, in its infancy at 15, opium’s rise to Afghanistan’s top cash crop and global supply, and the CIA’s increasing “influence” everywhere including all of Latin America once again. To avoid unavoidable misperceptions of causation and correlation it’s perhaps best not to discuss these remarkably synchronous phenomena together in public.

      1. Larry Coffield

        Once again, the archaic and unconstitutional sumptuary prohibition pertaining to the demand inelasticity of heroin is producing the scourge by creating a profit motive from which markets expand That means more drug availability from which ambient peer exposure ferments epidemicity via low-profile retailing , the universal crime of choice for subsidizing the daily costs of inveteracy.

        As noted before, this is causation, not correlation. I’ve been working in this area of law reform since the Eighties, and can therefore defend this new knowledge if anyone wishes to challenge it. Change the law or wait for it to change America via Duterte remedies.

  15. David Green

    Sal Rodriguez has promoted a critical view of the opioid “crisis” on Counterpunch. I think his views are generally left out of even the leftist debate, which is quick to place all the blame on Big Pharma, perhaps understandably. His two articles at this link are worth serious reflection in light of several of the comments/stories above.

  16. Synoia

    We share public officials’ concern about the opioid crisis, and we are committed to working collaboratively toward meaningful solutions.

    I would suppose the Drug Company’s “meaningful solutions” would be to increase sales, and get off the legal hook.

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