You have to love the LA Times. In Sunday’s edition May 8, 2016, they published an investigative report that details the inner treachery of Purdue Pharma and the drug OxyContin. Basically, Purdue lied to the public, lied to the FDA, lied to the doctors, and lied to the insurance companies with bogus research stating that OxyContin contains a 12-hour duration to relieve chronic pain. Two pills a day would solve all the chronic pain that humans suffer. And the lie, the drug only lasted 8 hours and patients suffered withdrawals while waiting the 4-hour window to the next pill. Purdue’s own research pointed in this direction. Did that stop them? No, they threw marketing at the problem that fostered addiction and infected the entire realm of painkillers, which steered America right into the higher rate of overdoses. Purdue’s marketing changed the healthcare industry into a very negative situation in which Americans became addicts to opioids that were once designed for the serious health conditions.
The FDA doctor Mr. Curtis Wright, who led the charge for a 12-hour approval in 1995, within two years was working for Purdue. A nice legal way to take a few of the intimate facts related to the approval process and bury them into the private sector. Mr. Wright (I refuse to call him a doctor) now has a team of lawyers protecting his details of approval and the drug, all in one motion. I think the LA Times’ investigation shouldn’t stop there. We just might find a bribe and a devious plan to hind the transaction behind a strong team of corporate lawyers. And wouldn’t a nice cushy job with an enjoyable salary and long-term healthcare, and perhaps a gracious pension plan – qualify as a bribe?
The LA Times interviewed many experts in the pain treatment field, so I will only quote the paragraph from the article that details the final consensus: “Experts said that when there are gaps in the effect of a narcotic like OxyContin, the patients can suffer body aches, nausea, anxiety and other symptoms of withdrawal. When the agony is relieved by the next dose, it creates a cycle of pain and euphoria that fosters addiction.” A leading university researcher in the field of opioids and brain function was quoted as saying, regarding the 12-hour treatment imposed by Purdue, this could be “the perfect recipe for addition.”
Did Purdue Pharma know that their drug only lasted 8 hours? Yes, they did. From their own skewed research before the release of the drug, and after release by many of the doctors prescribing the medicine. Dr. Lawrence Robbins who runs a migraine clinic in Chicago started supplying the drug right after release. He reported that in 70 to 80% of his patients, the drug would wear off in less than 8 hours. What was Purdue’s response to all the doctors that reported the discrepancy? They gathered their sales force and start convincing doctors to increase the dosage and stick to the 12-hour prescription strategy. The 4-hour gap that fosters addiction grew more intense and many patients suffered needlessly. Wow, Really? The marketing plan of 12-hour relief that wasn’t working, outweighed the health of the patients? Dr. Robbins was one of the good doctors who dropped the drug from many of his patients and returned to the less expensive drugs that lasted 8 hours at lower doses.
Purdue wasted no time. Eleven months after the drug’s release in 1996, Purdue’s sales management forced its sales team to convince doctors that an 8-hour prescription at a lower dose was not an option, it was a 12-hour drug at higher doses. The original design of a 10mg dose was almost virtually scrapped. Overtime, Purdue worked the dosage up to 80 mg in an attempt to cover the fact that the drug did not work for 12 hours as promised, nor did it work at 80mg. Patients just got higher for 8 hours while Purdue made more money from the heavier prescriptions.
With a marketing plan built on complete lies, Purdue managed to peak sales into a $3-billion-year machine by 2010. In total, they have generated a $31 billion revenue stream from a drug that was not needed, that performed poorly, and led many to addiction when less expensive drugs were working just fine, including their own morphine pill called MS Contin. The pill that started the whole mess. Purdue’s patent on MS Contin was expiring and shifting to generic drug sales which meant less money for them. Purdue needed a new money stream and oh boy, did they create it.
Now here’s the real kicker. OxyContin wasn’t even a new drug. Purdue took an old cheap narcotic called oxycodone (used in Percocet and Roxicodone) and added a poorly functioning time-release mechanism, and then called it OxyContin. This drug was not a medical breakthrough at all, but they certainly pitched it as the twice a daybreakthrough that ends the problem of taking medication multiple times a day. It was the only benefit that they could pitch to doctors.
What I find extra alarming. We perceive that the medical field is operating with intelligent and highly trained doctors who can remedy our ills. Obviously, this too is a facade. The creed of do no harm, looks to be long gone. Commonsense doctors would have never allowed for a $31 billion rip off. They should have seen right through the repackaging of an old drug and after a week of witnessing withdrawals in their patients, they themselves should have put a stop to it. I’m sure many doctors enjoyed their golf outings with the Purdue sales team.
Heavy narcotics were originally designed for cancer patients and cases of chronic pain toward the end of life. Purdue and their sales division changed all that by suggesting OxyContin was safe for back pain, knee pain, and pain in general. How the entire medical field bought into this, is still mind boggling.
The LA Times managed to access some of the language Purdue used to motivate their sales division. Let’s see what making money off the sick looks like. I’ll give you a clue, it looks like the same stuff my sleazy car sales manger used.
An internal memo by a sales manager dated August 1996:
“$$$$$$$$$$$$$ It’s Bonus Time in the Neighborhood. He who sells 40mg will win the battle.”
From 1999, LA Times found another comment made by a regional manager to a top sales rep. The sales rep could “blow the lid off” and earn a trip to Hawaii by persuading doctors to write higher doses.
Per many of the upper management memos uncovered by the investigative reporters; during OxyContin’s entire existence, upper management fought the doctors who prescribed an 8-hour dose of lower milligrams. Management knew that their drug was nothing special, so the 12-hour theme must survive to maintain the higher pricing paid by the insurance companies. Upper management consistently forced their sale reps to retrain and manipulate doctors into the 12-hour treatment.
Will the executives be prosecuted for all the damage their lies and manipulations have caused? Hell, I don’t even think they will lose their jobs. My compassionate stance remains unwavering and would not seek prosecution due to the infection of money linked to human survival. However, we should write new laws that allow a healthier FDA to pursue a complete removal of the executives from the industry and a lifetime ban from running a corporation. Additionally, every dollar the company holds should be transferred into compensation fund for the victims. The corporation simply does not deserve to live.
I think this example pinpoints two very important aspects of modern capitalism. One, humans lie to each other to make money, and then force other humans to carry out the harmful actions. Under this scenario, capitalism is no longer a problem solver, capitalism is a problem creator. Two, the American healthcare system must take the profit center out of caring for the sick. The profit paradigm is what makes a Tylenol tablet excessively expensive and in many cases, leads to solutions that are more harmful than good. How can making money off the sick be humanly moral, is the real question to ask? CEO’s of pharmaceutical companies are highly decorated with money and the position shouldn’t even exist. Socialize medicine is the only solution that will prevent monetary exploitation to the sick.
My personal experience can offer one of the best examples of inflated value within healthcare. I use to ride motocross. For around $8000, I can buy a high-tech piece of machinery that is ready to race. Everything about the bike is high-tech. A state of the art engine with many intricate parts. A fancy suspension system that handles all the big jumps and rough bumps. A frame that refuses to crack and brackets that do not break. Every motocross bike is built like a tank that doesn’t rattle with cheap metal or comes apart mid jump. Your life depends on it working correctly.
My wife and I raise a medically fragile child who requires a wheelchair 24/7. Our daughter lives in that wheelchair, so it must be a nice one for comfort. It’s the nicest chair available with a custom seat and a tilting feature. Do you know how much the insurance billing was for her wheelchair? Roughly $9000. Do you know what we got? A wheelchair that began to rattle six months after usage. Pot metal screws that constantly break or strip. Pot metal brackets that have broken. Wheels that easily bend or crack, and a braking system that tends to pop open to rolling. Not cool when your daughter rolls away from you and she cannot stop the wheelchair. Her life depends on it working correctly.
For $9000, this thing should be made of titanium and last a lifetime, for there is not one high-tech gadget in the design that required advance engineering. The chair can’t even roll a child for a year straight without some malfunction. Do you know how many problems I had with my bike? None, unless I wrecked it. The cheap pot metal construction probably cost China less than $100 to make, and overall, is no more difficult to manufacture than a $200 Schwinn at Walmart. But somehow a billing of $9000 is paid as the final tally. Someone is making gobs of money off the ill. Thank you for ripping off my daughter. If she could speak, I’m sure she would say … you guys who run the show, you suck.
Isn’t capitalism about fair and proper supply and demand that leads to correct pricing and fair billing? Not in America, when contemplating the most important aspect of humanity–taking care of the sick and ill.
It’s time to end the patenting of drugs. We can take Bernie Sanders’ idea of heavily taxing Wall Street who also suck on government to finance these drugs, and expand our education system and do more with it. We could build specialized universities that are free to all kids, so every kid can grow up smart and perhaps in the future this will curtail the silly things we do to each other. At the same time, we could train them in responsibility. How you may ask? A new style of upper education takes over the manufacturing of drugs and other healthcare products straight from the halls of research. Maybe then a poorly constructed, non-high-tech wheelchair wouldn’t cost $9000. Yes, it’s a whole new way of running healthcare that can guide America into socialized medicine. Under this model, the CEO role that infects the insurance and pharmaceutical cartels, simply disappears and so do the harmful directions. And imagine what the kids would learn while covering design and manufacturing all under one roof, and with hands-on training no less.
I trust the mentored kids and a competent research staff to make better decisions than executives and sales managers. Why? Well, the manipulation of money is not present in the decisions. Universities and their research staffs could maintain and manage the drugs that actually work. The idea to slightly modify a drug as a repackaging scheme to higher prices would not present itself. And true breakthroughs would emerge rather than concentrating on ways to make money first.
America must remove capitalism from tending to the sick. A nauseated system cannot heal the sick at the levels required for a universal wellness within society. The humans that OD’d prove the point.
The good lawyers who fight for human rights, will begin to tear this corporation down with class action lawsuits. Have at it boys and girls. Do a good a job!
Thank you LA Times!