Purdue Pharma has faced years of intense scrutiny over its opioid painkiller marketing, culminating with last month’s Department of Justice settlement worth more than $8 billion. Behind the scenes, global consulting leader McKinsey & Company helped guide marketing strategy for years and pitched the idea of rebates to distributors for overdoses, according to The New York Times.
After last month's settlement, new documents released through Purdue’s bankruptcy process show that McKinsey advised the company on ways to boost sales, according to the newspaper. In 2017, McKinsey advisors said that one way Purdue could improve OxyContin's performance was to offer distributors rebates for opioid overdoses that were attributable to its drug.
For instance, the advisors predicted in 2019 that around 2,500 CVS customers might overdose. Under a proposed rebate of $14,810 per overdose, that’d mean a payment to CVS of $36.8 million that year. CVS and Anthem never received such rebates, representatives told the Times.
A McKinsey spokesperson told the NYT that the company is “cooperating fully with the opioid-related investigations” and decided last year it wouldn’t “advise any clients worldwide on opioid-specific business.” In a settlement document released last month, the Department of Justice detailed McKinsey’s actions as an unnamed “consulting company.”
Aside from their advice to Purdue, McKinsey officials themselves began to wonder about potential legal consequences from their opioid work, the Times says. In 2018, after Massachusetts sued Purdue, one consultant wrote to another that it "probably makes sense to have a quick conversation with the risk committee to see if we should be doing anything" except "eliminating all our documents and emails," according to a document seen by the newspaper.
"As things get tougher there someone might turn to us," the consultant wrote.
Purdue’s October settlement came after years of investigations over its role in the U.S. addiction and overdose epidemic. As part of the deal, the feds assessed Purdue a $3.54 billion criminal penalty. The company will forfeit another $2 billion and agreed to pay $2.8 billion on civil claims. Purdue's founding family, the Sacklers, agreed to pay $225 million in civil damages.
Separate from that deal, Purdue proposed to pay between $10 billion and $12 billion to settle state and local claims from around the country.