The marketing records in question, which STAT news (part of the Boston Globe) is trying to uncover, relate to a lawsuit filed by the State of Kentucky against Oxycontin drug manufacturer Purdue Pharma alleging that the marketing of OxyContin helped create a wave of addiction and related crime. That case was settled in December 2015, with Purdue making a “whopping” $24 million payment to the state.
The aggressive and illegal marketing of OxyContin, which was approved in 1995, has been blamed by many for helping to fuel the explosion of opioid abuse that has grown into a public health epidemic. Doctors and patients were told the medication carried little risk of addiction, when in fact many patients became addicted and subsequently overdosed and died. The records filed under seal in the Kentucky case could provide new information on how Purdue marketed the potent opioid and what top executives knew about the addictive nature of the painkiller.
The currently sealed records include internal emails discussing high-level marketing strategies; notes compiled by sales representatives after visiting doctors; minutes of high-level business strategy meetings; documents concerning internal analysis of clinical trials; confidential settlement communications from an earlier criminal case involving OxyContin; as well as other documents.
The battle to keep the Kentucky records secret comes at a time when Purdue, and the makers of other prescription opioid painkillers, are facing a new round of lawsuits from state and county governments alleging the drugs were illegally marketed. Many of those legal actions seek damages for the cost of addressing crime and social issues associated with the opioid epidemic, as well as treating the hundreds of thousands of people with opioid addictions.
In 2007, Purdue pleaded guilty to a federal criminal charge of misbranding OxyContin in an effort to mislead doctors and consumers. The company paid more than $600 million in fines.
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