Questions surround when pharmaceutical companies knew opioids were addictive

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) —  ABC27 wants to help fight the opioid crisis. As part of that effort, we wondered when the pharmaceutical companies knew their opioids were addictive.

That question may end up being answered in the courts, but we looked at the case of OxyContin. That’s one of the most addictive medicines on the planet, and it’s made by Purdue Pharma.

In 2007, Purdue paid a $600 million fine, one of the largest ever levied against the pharmaceutical industry. Three of its executives pleaded guilty to criminal charges.

“The president of the company, the top lawyer, and the chief medical officer knowingly misled physicians and patients about the risks of this medication,” said Dr. Carrie Delone, a former Pennsylvania physician general.

Purdue Pharma said it had a study that proved its reformulated version of OxyContin was safe for patients with chronic pain, but their study looked at only 38 people. Good studies include thousands of patients.

“They grossly underestimated the number of patients who became addicted, those who abused medications, and those who died of the medications,” Delone said.

But physicians wouldn’t know that for years, and they started prescribing OxyContin and other opioids at an astronomical rate.

“There are a lot of parallels that you can draw to the tobacco industry, that there was information that was not made public, that was not shared with physicians to enhance profits,” Delone said.

Purdue Pharmaceuticals makes a billion dollars a year off OxyContin.

More than 100 cities and counties and 41 state attorneys general are suing pharmaceutical companies, blaming them for the epidemic which has cost them a lot of money, not to mention people’s lives. As for the federal government, the FDA says it will better regulate marketing by pharmaceutical companies.

As always, if you or a loved one needs help recovering from addiction, this phone number is a good one to call: 1-800-622-HELP (4357). It’s a hotline that’s staffed by trained professionals 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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