The Los Angeles Times has published a must-read story about how the promotion of OxyContin helped set off the prescription opioid epidemic in the U.S.
The investigation by Harriet Ryan, Lisa Girion and Scott Glover found that even before OxyContin went on the market in 1996, clinical trials showed that the effects of OxyContin showed many patients weren’t getting the full 12 hours of pain relief promised by drugmaker Purdue Pharma. (The issue arose in the first clinical trial in 1989, during which about half of the 90 patients needed more pain relief before 12 hours was up.) The 12-hour duration was essential to Purdue’s marketing because it was the drug’s most important feature. “Without that, it offers little advantage over less expensive painkillers,” the Times reported.
The story goes on to describe how Purdue intervened when doctors started prescribing OxyContin at shorter intervals, telling them to prescribe higher doses instead. The higher doses increase the risk of overdose and don’t necessarily stop the breakthrough pain. The Times reported:
“Experts said that when there are gaps in the effect of a narcotic like OxyContin, 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, they said.”
The L.A. Times examined thousands of pages of previously sealed documents to report this story. You’ll be shocked by what they found in internal Purdue Pharma documents.
Speaking of painkillers, the Star Tribune has been breaking news about how Prince died with another painkiller — Percocet — in his system and in the middle of plans to get him help for his addiction. The Star Tribune’s David Chanen reported that Prince representatives called opioid addiction specialist Dr. Howard Kornfeld on the night of April 20, requesting urgent help. Kornfeld, based in California, couldn’t leave for Minnesota immediately, so he sent his son, pre-med student Andrew, to get the ball rolling on Prince’s treatment. When Andrew arrived the morning of April 21, Prince’s people looked for the musician, only to find him dead in the elevator. (Andrew Kornfeld was the one who called 911, which explains why the 911 caller didn’t know the address of Prince’s Paisley Park compound.)