OxyContin's Deception Costs Firm $634M

Roanoke, VA(CBS/AP) - Two days after agreeing to pay states nearly $20 million for falsely marketing OxyContin, the drug's maker, Perdue Pharma, and three current and former executives plead guilty to federal charges.

The Stamford, Conn.-based maker of the powerful painkiller, and three of its current and former executives, pleaded guilty Thursday to misleading the public about OxyContin's risk of addiction, a federal prosecutor and the company said.

Purdue Pharma L.P., its president, top lawyer and former chief medical officer will pay $634.5 million in fines for claiming the drug was less addictive and less subject to abuse than other pain medications, U.S. Attorney John Brownlee said in a news release.

The plea agreement comes after the company agreed to pay $19.5 million to 26 states and the District of Columbia to settle complaints that it encouraged physicians to overprescribe OxyContin.

"With its OxyContin, Purdue unleashed a highly abusable, addictive, and potentially dangerous drug on an unsuspecting and unknowing public," Brownlee said. "For these misrepresentations and crimes, Purdue and its executives have been brought to justice."

Purdue learned from focus groups with physicians in 1995 that they were worried about the abuse potential of OxyContin. The company then gave false information to its sales representatives that the drug had less potential for addiction and abuse than other painkillers, the U.S. attorney said.

Even though the company was warned by health professionals, the media and members of its own sales force, "Perdue continued to push a fraudulent marketing campaign that promoted OxyContin as less addictive, less subject to abuse and less likely to cause withdrawal when they knew in fact that that was not true," Brownlee told CBS News correspondent Barry Bagnato.

"People who are suffering from chronic pain want a drug that can relieve them of that pain and yet the same time is safe not only for themselves but for society," Brownlee said. "And Perdue promised that."

"Doctors are often approached right in their offices by pharmaceutical company sales reps dispensing information about one medication or another," said CBS News medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook. "This case is a reminder to doctors not to believe everything they hear — and to drug companies that the FDA will hold them accountable for fraudulent practices."

Purdue Pharma said it accepted responsibility for its employees' actions.

"During the past six years, we have implemented changes to our internal training, compliance and monitoring systems that seek to assure that similar events do not occur again," the company said in a news release.

OxyContin, a trade name for oxycodone, is designed to have a time-released effect on a patient's pain, but people who abuse the medication will crush the pills and then swallow, snort or inject the drug so that its pain-killing properties — meant to be spread out over 12 hours — are absorbed all at once.

From 1996 to 2001, the number of oxycodone-related deaths nationwide increased 400 percent while the annual number of OxyContin prescriptions increased nearly 20-fold, according to a report by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. In 2002, the DEA said the drug caused 146 deaths and contributed to another 318.

"I think these people are drug pushers, just like street drug pushers," said Joe Califano, the head of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. " ... It is outrageous that these people pushed this drug, addictive as they knew it was, onto the market and in effect damaged millions of innocent people."

The drug became a major problem in Virginia — particularly southwest Virginia and other areas of the Appalachian region, where it got the nickname "hillbilly heroin."

In western Virginia, 228 people died from overdoses of oxycodone from 1996 to 2005, Brownlee said.

Brownlee said the guilty pleas were entered Thursday morning in U.S. District Court in Abingdon, about 135 miles south of Roanoke. In addition to Purdue's plea, company chief executive officer Michael Friedman, general counsel Howard Udell and chief medical officer Paul Goldenheim each pleaded guilty to misdemeanor counts of misbranding the drug. They individually will pay fines totaling $34.5 million.

The fines will be distributed to state and federal law enforcement agencies, the federal government, federal and state Medicaid programs, a Virginia prescription monitoring program and individuals who had sued the company. At least $5 million will go toward a six-year company program to monitor compliance with the agreement.

© MMVII, CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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  • by Vitolo on Oct 24, 2010 at 08:08 PM
    I was in a prolonged ( 5.5 week) coma after a truck went out of control and broke every bone in my body. I have been through the gambit of pain relievers. Morphine made me ill, and Hydrocodone made me foggy, ... both caused severe constipation. I have used Oxycontin for 6 years. I started out at 80, moved to 60, then due to my constipation got down to 20 mg twice a day( with breakthru meds) This allowed some small pain reduction, and no constipation. My wife "snitched" on me to the doctors about my extreme pain levels, as I was accepting and trying to function at a 6-7 pain level so I could stay fully alert. Doctor wanted me to go up to 40 mg twice a day, and we compromised at 30 mg 30 did help. No constipation. not foggy either, and pain level stayed at about a 5, which was not fun, but I could get by! I stayed at 30 for last year and a half The new formula is killing me! I get heartburn 24/7, and am constipated. My tongue stays green, and I am at a level 5-7 all of the time... and th
  • by Jake Location: Rutledge on Nov 16, 2009 at 05:53 PM
    Kudos, Clarissa - I am so proud of your brother and hope he does very well - been there done that and he will also, there is light and a close relationship with Christ is very productive and abortion is forgivable when sought. We use any excuse to take a drug mine was pain which I still have, however, with Oxy it is unlike any other drug having an opium base which is extremely addictive as you well know. I am a productive citizen and have been most of my life, in rehab he will learn to ignore stupidity and class distinction and once again have dignity and honor. There are all kinds of addictions but this one has a certainty of death as its benefit dependent upon the persons level of tolerance. Society must alway monitor that which is deadly and seek its removal. Ignorance walks blind in the path of death and is stalked by its tentacles of pleasure and relaxes in its snare of sudden grasp, a wise man/woman will see the death and flee from it but a fool will rush in.
  • by Span Location: Sunbright on Nov 16, 2009 at 05:34 PM
    This medication is very addictive and requires rehabilitation such as that of Pennisula (?) Hospital and followup such as the Lighthouse which do excellent work. I am glad for the finding, however, this does nothing for the patients, their divorces, family problems, financial ability to pay for rehab and treatment. While it may pay the states back for their part in the rehab financing, it does nothing to releive the financial burden for the patient in pain. The longer you take Oxy the more likely a heart attack and death upon withdrawl. The medication stops working after time and requires more medication and that eventually leads to doctors who started the patient on Oxy of withdrawing prescriptions and causing the patient to go "cold turkey" in a downward spiral that not only disrupts the managability of the patient but their familys. This drug should never be used except in a "death" situation such as cancer. States are the victors, Patients are the losers as usual.
  • by sammy Location: canal on Dec 12, 2008 at 10:40 AM
    oxycontins are the best drugs
  • by sandy Location: pittston on Sep 5, 2008 at 12:50 PM
    WOW everyone posting a commment has different reasons, excused or more so oppionated, about this drug, I persay it should only be perscribed to someone who is going threw pain and suffering, and die.Unfortnately there are DR. allowed to perscribe this addictive drug, Im one of them. Now am off them for a few months but still suffer from porphoryhia, and am desperite for pain relief, and can not get it, sometimes i just give up and say deal with it' or want to blame someone or something, off this drug but ???? i need it for pain
  • by Sam Location: Delhi on May 22, 2008 at 02:49 AM
    Many treatment options are available for a person affected with drug addiction. Some of the best programs used for treatment of drug or alcohol addicts are individualized drug counseling, motivational enhancement psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy.
  • by BES Location: Smithtown, NY on Apr 11, 2008 at 10:42 AM
    More of this drug is on the street than in the med cabinets of those the really need it. It most often leads to heroin use and is killing our children. On LI they have indicted a Dr. prescribing over 1500 scripts of this med to people he never met just to profit. These ended up in the affluent neighborhoods of Smithtown and St. James NY. Purdue has been aware of inordinate amounts of this drug being prescribed by specific doctors and reported nothing to the authorities. This is a travesty. It is basically synthetic heroin. It's bad enough that illicit drugs are on the street, and now the pharmaceutical companies are the dealers in essence. My 15 year old son is now a heroin addict and started with snorting oxycontin, should we blame him or Purdue? Worse is that Purdue paid a fine to the GOVERNMENT, of whom the pharm companies already have in their back pocket. Families of those that die or are addicted for life get nothing but pain for the rest of their lives. Reprehensible.
  • by Clarissa Location: Ohio on Jul 26, 2007 at 09:58 AM
    (Cont.)Now I am not making an excuse for him because I hate what he has done to him self but he is getting help and I love him for that. I think before ANYONE jumps to a conclusion that people should quit abusing this drug or people that do it are horrible, you need to sit back and think what if it was my son, my brother, my daughter, my sister, my husband, my wife, or so on. I PROMISE you would feel different about the whole situation. My brother will be done with his rehab in September, he is not quit sure what he is going to do when he is out, he is thinking about going to college. He claims he can never come back here because his best friends still abuse the pain pill. For all you people that think that when someone turns out this way they came from a horrible family isn’t true, yea I am sure that some of them do, but not my brother. Our parents are still married as a matter of fact it will be 33 years tomorrow, we didn’t have a lot of money but we always had what me needed, a nice house to grow up in and loving, caring parents is all we needed. So the next time that you think that the people that abuse this drug is scum they are not my brother is a wonderful guy and I am so proud of what he has come through, each family wouldn’t be complete without a little drama! For everyone that reads this say a little prayer for my brother tonight, he will appreciate it and so will I. Thanks! As for me I am not really sure that I am going to be able to do my speech about the Perdue Pharma & OxyContin because I think it will be a little to emotion for me. I may try it though.
  • by Clarissa Location: Ohio on Jul 26, 2007 at 09:58 AM
    It's actually really weird how I came across this article. I am currently taking a speech class at my college in Ohio, it's my last class before I graduate. We have been assigned to do a persuasive speech, the professor gave us a list of 56 topics that we could choose but said that we could pick our own. I really want to do mine on Perdue Pharma about the OxyContin rage. I am 21 years old, I have 1 sister how is 29 and a brother who is 25, so I am the baby. My family has gone through a lot in the past hmmmm 2 years. My brother WAS addicted to OxyContin. He is currently in a drug rehab center in Northern Ohio where he has been since February 19, 2007. As far as we know he started abusing the drug when he was 18, he was dating this girl had moved in with her, they were planning on getting married some day just not soon. He came home from work on day and she was crying he asked her what was wrong and she said that she had just got home from having an abortion, he was devastated that she would have an abortion and not tell him. He says this is what caused his problem.
  • by donna Location: tazewell, tn on May 16, 2007 at 03:29 PM
    the drug should be taken off the market all toghether, no ifs ands or buts!
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