Purdue Pharma, the pharmaceutical firm that makes the opiate painkiller OxyContin, has agreed to pay $634 million in fines for falsely claiming that the drug was less addictive and has less potential for abuse than other similar drugs. The fines were levied against both the company and three of its top executives.
The company pleaded guilty to felony charges of misbranding OxyContin with the intent to defraud and mislead; the executives pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges. The drug has become a prominent drug of abuse as well as a popular painkiller.
The deal was announced by U.S. Attorney John Brownlee a day after Purdue Pharma agreed to pay $19.5 million to 26 states and the District of Columbia to settle charges that it encouraged doctors to prescribe higher doses of the drug than authorized by the FDA.
“With its OxyContin, Purdue unleashed a highly abusable, addictive, and potentially dangerous drug on an unsuspecting and unknowing public,” said Brownlee, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia, the Associated Press reported May 10. “For these misrepresentations and crimes, Purdue and its executives have been brought to justice.”
Purdue Pharma said the company accepted responsibility for the actions of CEO Michael Friedman, general counsel Howard Udell, and ex chief medical officer Paul Goldenheim, and said the firm had “implemented changes to our internal training, compliance and monitoring systems that seek to assure that similar events do not occur again.”
Brownlee said that Purdue Pharma officials knew for years that the drug was highly susceptible to abuse. “Even in the face of warnings from health care professionals, the media, and members of its own sales force that OxyContin was being widely abused and causing harm to our citizens, Purdue, under the leadership of its top executives, continued to push a fraudulent marketing campaign that promoted Oxycontin as less addictive, less subject to abuse, and less likely to cause withdrawal,” said Brownlee. “In the process, scores died as a result of OxyContin abuse and an even greater number of people became addicted.”
However, the company stressed that the agreement had no relation to charges that Purdue Pharma was complicit in diversion of OxyContin to the illicit market. “The papers filed by the government do not make any such allegation and the company's plea did not involve an admission of such wrongdoing,” the firm said in a statement.
The money from the settlement will go to the U.S. government ($276 million), state and federal Medicaid programs ($160 million), a Virginia prescription monitoring program, and individual plaintiffs who sued the company ($130 million), among others.