Purdue Pharma is a privately held pharmaceutical organization that is based in Stamford, Connecticut. Purdue Pharma produces a number of medications that are commonly used today for various purposes.
Purdue Pharma History
Purdue Pharma was founded in 1882 by physicians George Frederick and John Purdue Gray. The company was originally located in Bingham, New York, and originally went under the name the Purdue Frederick Company. The company was sold in 1952 to physicians Mortimer Sackler and Raymond Sackler, and the company transferred to Yonkers, New York, and opened offices in Connecticut and New Jersey. The Connecticut office became its headquarters.
The current focus of Purdue Pharma is pain management. In September 2015, Purdue Pharma acquired VM Pharma and obtain the commercial rights for the products marketed by that company. The manufacturing of drugs for Purdue Pharma L.P. takes place at companies located in Wilson, North Carolina; Totowa, New Jersey; and Coventry, Rhode Island. According to the website, research laboratories are in Cranbury, New Jersey, and the company employs over 1,800 people.
Medications: Purdue Pharma
Purdue Pharma produces a number of medications that the company’s website lists as belonging to five major categories:
- Prescription opioids: These narcotic drugs are generally used for the treatment of pain. They are controlled substances listed by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration as Schedule II substances.
- Sleep aids: These are designed to assist people with formal sleep disorders and typically listed as controlled substances.
- Antiseptic medications
- Dietary supplements
Some of the better-known drugs produced by Purdue Pharma are listed below. The names listed here are the names for these drugs in the United States; they may have different names in other countries.
- Betadine (povidone iodine) is an antiseptic. It is also marketed as a surgical scrub.
- Butrans (buprenorphine) is a partial opioid agonist drug that is most commonly used in the treatment of withdrawal from opiates as an opioid replacement medication.
- Colace (docusate) is a laxative.
- Dilaudid and Dilaudid‐HP (hydromorphone) is a very effective and potent opioid agonist that is commonly used in the treatment of postsurgical pain. These drugs can also be used in the treatment of chronic pain for individuals who do not respond to other opiate (narcotic) medications.
- Hysingla ER (hydrocodone) is the extended-release form of hydrocodone. This form of the medication allows for individuals to take a pill at less frequent intervals for their chronic pain.
- Intermezzo (zolpidem) is a drug primarily used in the treatment of insomnia. Zolpidem is more commonly known by the trade name Ambien.
- MS Contin (morphine) is the extended-release form of morphine, which is a well-known opioid agonist medication used in the treatment of pain.
- OxyContin (oxycodone) is the extended-release version of the opioid agonist oxycodone. It is used in the treatment of acute and chronic pain.
- Senokot and Senokot S (senna) are laxative medications.
- Slow‐Mag (calcium carbonate/magnesium chloride) represents minerals and electrolytes used as a replacement for individuals who lose these substances through dehydration, diarrhea, sweating, etc.
Purdue Pharma lists itself as a member of the pharmaceutical companies that label themselves as REMS companies (Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy). These companies offer online guidelines and strategies to manage the serious risks that are associated with use of all opiate drugs, and membership is a requirement by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for companies marketing these medications. Membership includes specifying all brand-name and generic products with extended-release and long-acting formulations of opioid medications, working in conjunction with the FDA to decrease abuse of these medications by providing strategies and information regarding their abuse, and making the recommendation that there should be counseling and education for individuals taking these medications.
While there are statements by Purdue Pharma on its website that it attempts to promote safe use of opioid analgesics and other potentially addictive drugs, the company has a rather jaded history. Perhaps the most controversial issues surrounded its manufacture and marketing of the drugs MS Contin and OxyContin, which are the most commonly abused drugs the company produces. These drugs can be abused by crushing the pills, dissolving them into liquid and injecting them, chewing them, or snorting them. These drugs can easily lead to overdose when abused in this manner.
They are significant drugs of abuse despite Purdue Pharma claiming that these drugs had lower abuse potential because their extended-release versions made them difficult to abuse. There have been numerous lawsuits aimed at attempting to place the blame on Purdue Pharma for abuse associated with OxyContin. These lawsuits range in the hundreds, and new lawsuits are continually being filed.
For example, Purdue Pharma pled guilty to misleading the public regarding the addiction potential of OxyContin in 2007 and agreed to pay $600 million as restitution. A number of officials were also required to pay out millions of dollars in settlements due to their role in misleading the public regarding the addiction potential of OxyContin. Purdue Pharma has attempted to alter the manufacturing the drug to make it less prone to addiction; however, these alterations have not been effective and lawsuits continue.
The New England Journal of Medicine released a report in 2012 showing that the majority of individuals who were in treatment for addiction to heroin began their substance abuse by abusing prescription opiate drugs and that nearly two-thirds of the opioid drugs that are abused either directly or indirectly come from a physician’s prescription. The primary drug of abuse in many of these cases was OxyContin. Another lawsuit that was settled in 2015 required Purdue Pharma to pay $24 million to the state of Kentucky due to widespread abuse of OxyContin in the state.
There may be more extensive lawsuits on the horizon. A lawsuit by the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois alleging that drug manufacturers were marketing opiate medications illegally and producing a number of addicts as a result of these illegal marketing tactics included Purdue Pharma along with several other pharmaceutical companies.
A lawsuit reported in the Los Angeles Times in January 2017 is being pursued by the city of Everett, Washington, against Purdue Pharma. It may lead to a number of other lawsuits that could conceivably run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. The Los Angeles Times had previously reported that Purdue Pharma had extensive knowledge of the illegal drug trafficking associated with OxyContin and did nothing to interfere or halt this illegal trafficking. The suit by Everett, Washington, claims that Purdue Pharma benefited by profiting off this illegal trafficking. It is the first suit to hold Purdue Pharma accountable for illegal trafficking of the drug OxyContin, even though Purdue Pharma did not directly participate in these illegal activities. The suit contends that Purdue Pharma profited from the illegal distribution of its drug and had both the knowledge and capability to intervene. If the suit is successful, it could result in numerous other lawsuits or in a class action suit holding Purdue Pharma accountable for the extensive misuse of OxyContin acquired through illegal means.
If successful, this lawsuit could represent an important precedent that could be used against other companies. In essence, it could hold companies accountable if it can be shown that they knew their product was being illegally distributed and profited from its illegal distribution but took no action to intervene.
Purdue Pharma is a company that produces a number of medicinal products and products that have a high potential for abuse. Purdue Pharma has been involved in a number of lawsuits, particularly regarding its drugs OxyContin and MS Contin and the responsibility of the company to ensure that the drug is manufactured in a way that limits its potential for addiction. New legal actions against Purdue Pharma may be significant in holding pharmaceutical companies accountable if they profited from the illegal distribution of the drugs they produce, knew that these drugs were being illegally acquired in high numbers, and took no action to rectify the situation.