Monday, June 4, 2007

The OxyContin Letters

The OxyContin Letters


When things go wrong, don’t walk away.
That will only make it harder.

-Robin Lane and the Chartbusters

I recently wrote about how the makers of OxyContin agreed to a wimpy $600 million settlement with the federal government. Purdue Pharma, the makers of OxyContin, were selling an addictive drug. The top executives knew it was addictive, and the company sold almost $10 billion of the stuff.

Their lawyer, presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani, negotiated a plea that kept people at Purdue from going to jail.
Giuliani cut a deal that street pushers would drool over. The fine is a small percentage of their sales, and the drug is still on the market.

In the language of the street pusher, the people at Purdue coped a plea, paid a fine and went back on the street.

In the wake of the OxyContin executives’ admission to committing a CRIME, Congressmen Hal Rogers of Kentucky and Frank Wolff of Virginia made a reasonable request.

They want OxyContin to be prescribed only for severe pain, not moderate pain as it is now.

Rogers said that one of the advantages of the change would be that it would cut the number of drugs being diverted to the black market.

Rogers and Wolff asked the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to look into the matter.

Amazingly, Purdue Pharma, the makers of OxyContin, the same company that just let Giuliani cop a plea on their behalf, are fighting Rogers and Wolff.

Instead of thanking God for Rudy’s great connections and the laptop tendencies of the prosecution, the people at Purdue want the FDA to ignore the congressmen.

Here is something I can’t ignore. After I wrote my column, I started hearing from people all over the world.

A reader in Texas wrote the following:

My sister was very much addicted to Oxycontin that she was obtaining legally from her doctor. She was living with my 72-year-old mother as she was unable to hold a job. Her boyfriend was also addicted to various drugs. One night she refused to give him more of her Oxycontin, and he left to later return and cut the throats of my mother and sister.

The OxyContin problem is not confined to the United States. A reader in Canada wrote:

My son was addicted to Oxycontin for about 3 years. He is 22 months clean now but only because he is on the methadone maintenance program. We live in a small town and have to travel 2 hours each way weekly for him to be urine tested and to see the doctor. He was hooked so hard core, it is amazing he is still alive. He is clean right now, but he is a totally different person, often filled with anger. In our town of 6,500 people the drug of choice among our kids is Oxycontin!

Not everyone liked my column. A financial consultant in New York City called me a jerk but didn’t specify why. Either he likes OxyContin or likes Giuliani. Maybe both.

An Arizona reader told me his doctor had prescribed OxyContin for his back pain but that he was careful to explain that the drug could be addictive. Thus, the man used OxyContin without incident.

After reading horror story after horror story, I can’t imagine a scenario where I would willingly take OxyContin. I can understand doing so if you and your doctor weigh the risks and the benefits.

For moderate pain there has to be a better solution than OxyContin. Even if the government just limited the supply, it would be a big step forward.

It takes a lot of gall to keep fighting after your company and its top executives have agreed to a $634.5 million fine—not to mention the fact that everyone who was charged was well-connected enough to avoid serving jail time.

Purdue apparently has that kind of gall.

The people at Purdue admitted to willfully doing something that harmed people. They ought to do more than pay a fine; they ought to show leadership and clean up some of the mess they started.

Instead, they want the FDA’s blessing to keep on selling OxyContin to people with moderate pain.

The people at Purdue need to realize that when things go wrong, you don’t walk away.

That will only make it harder.

Don McNay is the Chairman of the Board for McNay Settlement Group in Richmond, Ky. You can write to him at don@donmcnay.com or read other things he has written at www.donmcnay.com. His newspaper column is syndicated in over 200 newspapers.

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