Aggressive marketing of OxyContin is blamed by some analysts for propelling the crisis that has resulted in 200,000 overdose deaths related to prescription opioids since 1999.
In 2007, Purdue pleaded guilty to federal charges of understating the risk of addiction and agreed to pay $600 million in fines and penalties. Still, the company argued publicly that OxyContin has “done far more good than harm,” and it sought to place responsibility for the bad acts on “certain of its supervisors and employees.”
In September 2014, Purdue embarked on a secret project to join an industry that was booming thanks in part to OxyContin abuse: addiction treatment medication. Code-named Project Tango, it involved Purdue executives and staff as well as Dr. Kathe Sackler, a daughter of the company co-founder Mortimer Sackler and a defendant in the Massachusetts lawsuit. She participated in phone calls and told staff that the project required their “immediate attention,” according to the complaint.
“It is an attractive market,” the team working on the project wrote in a presentation. “Large unmet need for vulnerable, underserved and stigmatized patient population suffering from substance abuse, dependence and addiction.”
While OxyContin sales were declining, the internal team at Purdue touted the fact that the addiction treatment marketplace was expanding.
While those initiatives appear to have stalled or ended, Richard Sackler received a patent last year for a drug to treat addiction, according to the complaint. The patent application states that opioids are addictive and refers to people who suffer from substance use disorders as “junkies.”