Purdue Pharma finally stops marketing opioids to physicians—and cuts 200-plus representatives in the process

Hydrocodone opioid pills
Purdue Pharma is slashing its sales staff after finally announcing it will stop marketing its opioid drugs to doctors.(Getty/smartstock)

Even as the U.S. opioid crisis deepened and lawsuits flourished, Purdue Pharma continued to market Oxycontin to doctors. But no longer. The company said last week that it will stop promoting its opioid drugs to physicians.

Along with the move, the opioid drugmaker will lay off 200 salespeople, or more than half its staff.

The company plans to send a letter to doctors Monday notifying them that salespeople will no longer come to their offices to talk about the company’s pain products, according to Bloomberg, which first reported the end to the promoting. It will now answer doctors’ questions about the pain drugs through its medical affairs team.

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“We have restructured and significantly reduced our commercial operation and will no longer be promoting opioids to prescribers,” Purdue said in a statement. Along with Oxycontin, Purdue also makes the opioid drugs Butrans and Hysingla ER.

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More than a dozen states, including New York, New Jersey, Alabama and Washington, and more than 100 cities and counties, are suing Purdue over charges it facilitated the U.S. opioid crisis through aggressive marketing. It is also a codefendant, along with Endo International, Johnson & Johnson's Janssen, Teva Pharmaceutical and Allergan, in the opioid marketing investigation underway by 39 states' attorneys general.

In 2016, opioids, including prescription drugs, fentanyl and heroin, killed more than 42,000 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control, with more than 40% of overdose deaths involving a prescription opioid. Deaths from prescription drugs alone have quadrupled since 1999, the CDC reported.

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In response to the criticism and legal action, Purdue has insisted its products are lawful and approved products. Meanwhile, it’s said to be looking to cut a global settlement deal to put aside legal claims. Purdue has also pushed a public relations and advertising effort to point out its efforts in the fight against the opioid drug public health problem.

A statement on its website echoes advertisements it has placed in print publications such as The Wall Street Journal, leading with the title, “We manufacture prescription opioids. How could we not help fight the prescription and illicit opioid abuse crisis?”