Purdue Pharma Reportedly Knew Doctors Underestimated OxyContin’s Strength

February 22, 2019, 2:33 PM UTC

Purdue Pharma knew that doctors thought the painkiller OxyContin, which helped contribute to the current opioid crisis, was weaker than morphine when it was really twice as strong, ProPublica and STAT jointly reported.

But the pharmaceutical company didn’t correct the misunderstanding because it was boosting use and sales of the product, according to email exchanges between Dr. Richard Sackler, a member of the family that controls the company, and company executives. The content of the emails were revealed in a 2015 deposition of Sackler that had previously been sealed under court order.

Evidence suggests that the company knew OxyContin was highly addictive, according to Axios, but kept promoting it in search of higher profits. One of the causes of the current opioid crisis is that many doctors, misunderstanding the danger, gave people long-term prescriptions of the medicine.

In the emails, Michael Friedman, who was head of marketing for the company at that time, wrote, “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.” Sackler replied that he agreed.

In a statement provided to Fortune, Purdue Pharma said the deposition “never entered into evidence and was never relied on in any ruling by the court” and that “Dr. Sackler described Purdue’s efforts to adhere to all relevant laws and regulations and to appropriately reflect OxyContin’s risks of abuse and addiction as the science of opioid pain therapy evolved over time.”