Prescription Painkiller Pill Mills and Corporate Greed

Purdue Pharma makes Oxycontin. In fact, Purdue has made $27 billion selling the drug since it was introduced in 1996. In case you weren't aware, Oxycontin is a powerful opiate painkiller -- it's twice as potent as morphine -- that is coveted by opiate-lovers in the drug-using community.


OxyContin and other prescription painkillers have fueled a surge in drug overdoses, which in 2009 claimed 39,147 lives, surpassing for the first time traffic accidents as a leading cause of preventable deaths. Two years later, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared prescription drug overdoses an epidemic.

Needless, to say, this has raised law enforcement's hackles. So Purdue, for its part, heaped the blame on pharmacy robberies, rouge doctors and the "teenager raided the medicine cabinet" as reasons for this epidemic.

Turns out this was not quite true. In fact, it turns out that this is a classic case of corporate greed -- Purdue actually had a list of over 1,800 doctors who it suspected of recklessly -- and illegally -- prescribing "Oxy" willy-nilly. Did it report them to the authorities? Nope. (Well, the company said is reported about 8 percent of these doctors to the authorities, but the Los Angeles Times could not independently verify this total). People are dying? Personal responsibility for them, money for us.

But then a strange thing happened, as Purdue's patent on Oxycontin was about to expire, it suddenly got religion. Some context first: when you crush and snort Oxy you get really high. So Purdue came out with a crush resistant pill -- prescriptions of that pill dropped by 80 percent. Meanwhile, prescriptions of Opana, an opiate painkiller competitor, which was not crush-resistant, grew by 400 percent. In reaction, Purdue went to the FDA and said hey, Oxy is just too potent to allow generic drug companies to produce. Corporate responsibility. Very nice.

Just kidding. This is corporate greed at its worst. Stanford University Professor Keith Humphreys summed up the situation pithily:

He noted that Purdue became more vigorous about alerting government authorities to potential problem doctors after it shifted to its tamper-resistant formula and when generic-drug makers were poised to produce the crushable version.

"Those doctors are a gold mine for Purdue Pharma. And the whole time they're taking the money, knowing that something is wrong, and not telling anyone until it gives them a market advantage to do so," he said. "That is really disgusting."

Purdue Pharma is more concerned with lining its pockets than with the fact that people are dying because of its acts (omissions, really). The free market and culture of money as the greatest, or only, "good" . . . this is what we have wrought.

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