Though it was written nearly eight years ago, the Government Accountability Office’s report on Purdue Pharma’s aggressive marketing and promotion of OxyContin is no less shocking today. The company’s nefarious tactics included a patient starter coupon program for OxyContin to provide patients with a free limited-time prescription, promotional videos containing the unsubstantiated claim that opioid analgesics have been shown to cause addiction in less than 1 percent of patients, and several types of branded promotional items, including “OxyContin fishing hats, stuffed plush toys, coffee mugs with heat-activated messages, music compact discs, luggage tags, and pens containing a pullout conversion chart showing physicians how to calculate the dosage to convert a patient to OxyContin from other opioid pain relievers,” according to the report. Indeed, Purdue’s annual spending for OxyContin advertisements increased from about $700,000 in 1996 to about $4.6 million in 2001, the report says.
It’s alarming to read this dated report knowing that four years later, Purdue pled guilty in federal court and paid $634.5 million for its actions. It’s even more alarming that the company continued to market OxyContin in its original formulation and didn’t reformulate the drug until 2010 to supposedly make it less abusable. And it’s pretty sickening to remember, in detail, the lengths pharmaceutical industry is willing to go to in order to boost sales of its products, no matter the human costs.