Writing on the Op-Ed page of the Wall St. Journal (Oxy Morons) in the wake of OxyContin maker Purdue Frederickâ€™s $600 million settlement for improper promotion of OxyContin, Dr. Sally Satel, psychiatrist and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute claims that:
[T]he real public-health damage here comes from the pitched campaign conducted by zealous prosecutors and public-interest advocates to demonize the drug itself. This is tragic because OxyContin has been a godsend for millions of patients with searing, unremitting pain from chronic back problems, rheumatoid arthritis, neurological disorders and other dire afflictions.
I agree with the second sentence but not the first. Purdue has a duty to promote the drug appropriately to keep it available for those who need it. But Purdue stepped over the line in promotion and in doing so may inadvertently make it harder for people with serious pain to get access to powerful meds. As the article points out, physicians are scared to treat pain aggressively for fear of unwanted law enforcement attention.
Purdue didnâ€™t invent oxycodone, OxyContinâ€™s active ingredient. Its innovation was in the slow-release formulation that allowed the longer action, which makes it so effective for constant pain. Is it too much to ask that Purdue market the product responsibly and according to its label?
Purdueâ€™s not alone here. Cephalon has also aggressively promoted Actiq, a lollipop-like product meant for people with severe cancer pain, so that the vast majority of its use is off-label. Overzealous prosecutors and misguided public health advocates do exist. But pharmaceutical companies, prescribing physicians and patients also need to act responsibly.May 15, 2007