By Mark Terry
Purdue Pharma, best known for selling painkiller OxyContin, announced it laid off approximately 350 staffers. About half of these jobs are in its sales force, which had been cut dramatically in February when the company laid off 380 staffers. The company blames lawsuits accusing it of helping the U.S. opioid epidemic.
In February, the company indicated that the remaining 200 sales staffers would focus on promoting the company’s non-opioid products. This recent round of layoffs leaves the company with about 550 employees. The company also says it will shift its focus to new drugs.
In a statement, the company said, “Purdue Pharma is taking significant steps to transform and diversify beyond our historic focus of pain medications.”
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), opioids were involved in more than 42,000 overdose deaths in 2016 in the U.S.
Reuters notes that Purdue, a private company, and other makers of opioids, are fending off hundreds of lawsuits by states, counties and cities alleging them of deceptive marketing practices. “The lawsuits have generally accused Purdue of deceiving doctors and patients by misrepresenting the risks of addiction and death associated with the prolonged use of its prescription opioids. The company denies the allegations.”
At this point, Purdue is engaged in lawsuits by 24 states and the territory of Puerto Rico. On June 12, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey sued Purdue and 16 current or former executives and board members, including members of the Sackler family, which owns the company. In a statement, Healey said, “Purdue Pharma and its executives built a multimillion-dollar business based on deception and addiction. The more drugs they sold, the more money they made, and the more people in Massachusetts suffered and died.”
Purdue responded, “We share the Attorney General’s concern about the opioid crisis. We are disappointed, however, that in the midst of good faith negotiations with many states, the Commonwealth has decided to pursue a costly and protracted litigation process. We will continue to work collaboratively with states toward bringing meaningful solutions.”
In 2007, Purdue and three executives pleaded guilty to federal charges related to OxyContin misbranding and agreed to pay penalties totaling $634.5 million.
In 2017, OxyContin brought in $1.74 billion in sales, down from $2.6 billion five years earlier, according to Symphony Health Solutions.
Purdue spokesman Bob Josephson stated that “this information today also means that Purdue has ended its sales force engagement with prescribers for all of its medicines.”
After the February layoffs, the company’s sales force was focused on promoting Symproic (naldemedine), a drug to treat opioid-induced constipation in adults with chronic non-cancer pain. Purdue is partnered with Japan-based Shionogi for the drug, which was approved last year by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Josephson said that the company plans to move its focus from opioids to other areas, such as cancer and central nervous system disorders, “primarily through emphasis on internal and partnered R&D programs.” However, it won’t abandon its opioid analgesic portfolio while taking “meaningful steps” to address opioid abuse.
The city of Boston this week hired a South Carolina law firm, Motley Rice LLC, as it plans a lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies to recover damages caused by the opioid epidemic. Mayor Martin J. Walsh said in a statement, “Boston, like so many cities across the country, has invested significant time, money and resources to aggressively attack the opioid crisis from every angle. Now is the time to finally hold the pharmaceutical industry responsible.”