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Divulged Private Emails Show Purdue Pharma’s Deception About the Strength of OxyContin

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In May of 1997, the year after Purdue Pharma launched OxyContin, its head of sales and marketing sought input on a key decision from Dr. Richard Sackler, a member of the billionaire family that founded and controls the company. Michael Friedman told Sackler that he didn’t want to correct the false impression among doctors that OxyContin was weaker than morphine, because the myth was boosting prescriptions—and sales.

“It would be extremely dangerous at this early stage in the life of the product,” Friedman wrote to Sackler, “to make physicians think the drug is stronger or equal to morphine…. We are well aware of the view held by many physicians that oxycodone [the active ingredient in OxyContin] is weaker than morphine. I do not plan to do anything about that.”

“I agree with you,” Sackler responded. “Is there a general agreement, or are there some holdouts?”

Ten years later, Purdue pleaded guilty in federal court to understating the risk of addiction to OxyContin, including failing to alert doctors that it was a stronger painkiller than morphine, and agreed to pay $600 million in fines and penalties. But Sackler’s support of the decision to conceal OxyContin’s strength from doctors—in email exchanges both with Friedman and another company executive—was not made public.



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Thanks !

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