OxyContin maker will stop promoting opioids to doctors

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OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma LP said on Saturday that it had slashed half its sales force and would stop dispatching sales representatives to physicians' offices to discuss its opioid drugs.

Andrew Kolodny, director of opioid policy research at Brandeis University in MA, told the Associated Press that although Purdue's decision to stop marketing the drug is helpful, it won't make a major difference unless other opioid drug companies follow suit. But he said the companies have promoted them as a treatment for chronic pain, where they are more harmful and less helpful, because it's more profitable.

Up to one in four people who received prescriptions for opioid drugs such as OxyContin struggle with opioid addiction, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

"The genie is already out of the bottle", said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, director of opioid policy research at Brandeis University and an advocate for stronger regulation of opioid drug companies.

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Among other opioid producers, Endo International Plc agreed in July to pull its Opana ER painkiller after the Food and Drug Administration called for its withdrawal.

OxyContin has always been the world's top-selling opioid painkiller, bringing in billions in sales for the privately-held company. It generated billions in sales for privately-held Purdue. The decision comes as the drug maker continues to face criticism for marketing addictive painkillers.

At least 14 states have sued Purdue, and many cities including Greenfield and Springfield in Western Massachusetts. It is also facing a federal investigation by the US Attorney's Office in CT, where the company is based.

The health insurer Cigna also announced in October it would no longer cover OxyContin through employer-based plans, shortly after the pharmaceutical industry lobby group PhRMA broadly endorsed policies that limit opioid prescriptions to seven days.

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Purdue has been accused of pushing OxyContin through misleading marketing that exaggerates the opioid's pain-relieving benefits while downplaying the risk of addiction.

Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty in 2007 to felony charges for false marketing of OxyContin and paid $635 million as a result.

Purdue said in a statement that it "vigorously denies" allegations of misconduct, adding that its products account for only "approximately 2%" of all opioid prescriptions. Costs of opioid addiction to the US economy have been estimated to be as high as $78.5 billion. He has yet to declare it a national emergency as he pledged to do in August following a recommendation by a presidential commission.

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