How America Got Addicted to OxyContin

Heath Ledger had just finished filming his Oscar-winning performance as The Joker in The Dark Knight when he was found unresponsive at his Los Angeles apartment in 2008. According to doctors, the 28-year-old film star died of acute intoxication from the combination of strong painkillers, including oxycodone—sold as OxyContin.

Sadly, his story isn’t uncommon.

Since 1999, 200,000 Americans have died from overdoses related to OxyContin and other prescription opioids. In 2016, there were 42,249 opioid-linked drug fatalities in the U.S.—more than the number of deaths linked to breast cancer. Many addicts, finding prescription painkillers too expensive or difficult to come by, turn to heroin and other drugs. In fact, four out of five people who try heroin today say they started with prescription painkillers.

Which raises the question: if this drug is dangerous, how did it become so insanely popular?

Upon its release in 1995, OxyContin was hailed as a medical breakthrough, a long-lasting drug that could help patients suffering from moderate to severe pain. Purdue Pharma—which developed the prescription painkiller—has reportedly earned some 35 billion dollars in revenue from OxyContin. The family behind the privately held company, known as the Sacklers, is among the richest in the United States, with a collective net worth of 13 billion dollars.

However, OxyContin is a controversial drug.

Its sole active ingredient is oxycodone, a chemical closely resembling heroin, and up to twice as powerful as morphine. Doctors were initially reluctant to prescribe such strong opioids, but that quickly changed when Purdue launched their aggressive marketing campaign to counter this attitude and change doctors’ prescribing habits.

Essential elements of this marketing effort included pain-management and speaker-training conferences, attended by thousands of health care professionals, many of whom were also recruited to serve on Purdue’s speakers' bureau. The company also used bonuses to incentivize its pharmaceutical representatives to increase OxyContin sales, which typically exceeded their annual salaries.

America became addicted.

As the deaths piled up, the Department of Justice took notice and charged Purdue with misbranding OxyContin’s abuse potential. In 2007, they plead guilty and paid over $600 million in fines; three company executives were criminally charged.

Now Massachusetts is suing Purdue and members of the Sackler family, claiming they violated the state’s consumer protection law by continuing to assure doctors that OxyContin had an unusually low risk of misuse, when executives knew otherwise.

Attorney General Maura Healey, who filed the lawsuit, says the company “created the epidemic and profited from it through a web of illegal deceit."

Purdue Pharma denies the charges.

Contact Casey Law Offices, S.C. Today!

At Casey Law Offices, S.C., we are truly passionate about what we do and committed to putting our clients first. Part of this commitment is providing excellent legal representation for individuals injured by dangerous drugs. If your doctor prescribed you an opioid, and you suffered harmful side effects, one of our Wisconsin personal injury attorneys can evaluate your injuries and help you pursue compensation.

Call (414) 272-5564 or contact us online for a free consultation.
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