Purdue Pharmaceuticals, the maker of the opioid painkiller OxyContin, said it would no longer actively market opioid products - a major about-face for a company increasingly viewed as a principal culprit in the country's addiction and overdose crisis.
OxyContin has always been the world's top-selling opioid painkiller.
The company's statement said it eliminated more than half its sales staff this week and will no longer send sales representatives to doctors' offices to discuss opioid drugs. The company will still handle requests from doctors who have questions about drugs such as OxyContin, through its medical affairs department.
Purdue, a privately held company based in Stamford, Conn., has been slammed with lawsuits claiming the company has downplayed OxyContin's addiction risk.More news: NCAA Tournament Selection Committee Reveals Top 16 Teams of Current Bracket
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The pill, a time-release version of oxycodone, was hailed as a breakthrough treatment for chronic pain when it was approved in late 1995.
The lawsuits accuse the companies of, among other things, misleading prescribers and the public by marketing opioids as a safe substitute for non-addictive pain medications such as ibuprofen.
Medical professionals say a shift in the 1990s to "institutionalize" pain management opened the doors for pharmaceutical companies to encourage the mass prescribing of painkillers by doctors, and Purdue Pharma led that effort.
Purdue's sales representatives will now focus on the Symproic drug created to treat opioid-induced constipation, and other non-opioid products. Purdue officials confirmed in November that they were in settlement talks with a group of state attorneys general and trying to come up with a global resolution of the government opioid claims. The CDC says more than three out of five drug overdose deaths involve opioids - and that annual deaths from heroin and prescription opioids have increased more than five-fold since 1999, including 42,000 deaths in 2016.