Purdue Pharma has a database of doctors who prescribe a lot of its painkiller OxyContin. On the face of it, that's not much of a statement: Most drugmakers gather that kind of data on doctors and their prescribing habits. But in this case, the list of more than 1,800 comprises doctors suspected of recklessly writing scripts for addicts and drug dealers, the Los Angeles Times reports.
OxyContin, of course, is the oft-abused opioid, and law enforcement officials have struggled to choke off illicit supplies. They've zeroed in on "pill mill" pharmacies and even gone after a drug distributor. But Purdue hasn't shared most of its doctor data with authorities, the Times says; the company has alerted law enforcement or regulators to only 154 of the physicians on its list.
Company attorney Robin Abrams told the newspaper that Purdue compiled the database to steer sales reps away from risky doctors. Cracking down on those doctors isn't the company's job, she said. "We don't have the ability to take the prescription pad out of their hand," she told the Times. Public health and law enforcement officials disagreed; they told the newspaper that Purdue should be handing over all of that information.
The company has been putting together its database for years, Abrams said. The company trained reps to look for red flags during their visits to doctors' offices. If doctors are deemed risky, then reps are told to avoid them, and the company stops paying commissions on related scripts. The docs are assigned to a sales territory known as "Region Zero," Abrams told the LAT. The company weighs the information it has and decides which doctors to refer to the authorities.
The company has shared information about that database with the FDA. When arguing against generic versions of the original formula of OxyContin--which Purdue had pulled, replacing it with a new, tamper-resistant version--the company cited data it had gathered on 364 of those active prescribers. Interestingly enough, the prescribing info showed that, after tamper-resistant OxyContin made its debut, the doctors started prescribing a lot more of non-tamper resistant Opana, a rival drug made by Endo Health Solutions ($ENDP). And those numbers went down after tamper-resistant Opana appeared, the newspaper says.
The FDA ended up barring generics of the original OxyContin formula as that drug's patent expired, leaving Purdue in control of the OxyContin market and preserving a multibillion-dollar revenue stream. The new formula is protected until 2025. Purdue says it spent $100 million to develop it.
Endo wasn't so lucky; the FDA ruled against its bid to stop generics makers from copying the original version of Opana. Since the decision in May, Endo has said it would lay off 15% of its workforce.
It's not the first time Purdue's handling of OxyContin information has come under scrutiny. The company agreed to pay $634 million to settle a Justice Department investigation of its OxyContin marketing. Company executives pleaded guilty to criminal charges of misleading the public about OxyContin's risks; several were barred from the pharma industry. And last year, the company's funding for a variety of patient advocacy groups came under fire, prompted by an investigation by Pro Publica. Sens. Charles Grassley and Max Baucus launched an investigation, and at least one of those groups--the American Pain Foundation--shut down.
- read the L.A. Times investigation
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