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Doctor who was paid by Purdue to push opioids to testify against drugmaker

Published: April 10, 2019
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Source: theguardian.com

A doctor who led the charge for mass prescribing of opioids in the US, and was then paid by Purdue Pharma to help drive sales of OxyContin, is to testify against the drugmaker and other companies facing a raft of lawsuits over America’s opioid epidemic.

Dr Russell Portenoy, who many experts believe did more than any other specialist to erode longstanding caution within the medical profession over prescribing opioids because of addiction fears, has agreed to cooperate with lawyers for cities and counties suing drug makers, distributors and pharmacies in return for dropping legal actions against him.

In a newly released statement to an Ohio court hearing a combined lawsuit of more than 1,600 cases, Portenoy accuses drugmakers of underplaying the dangers of opioids and of pushing them on patients who did not need them. The doctor said the industry overstated the benefits of narcotics painkillers and “understated the risks of opioids, particularly the risk of abuse, addiction and overdose”.

But if he appears as a witness, Portenoy, a professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, will be vulnerable to defense claims he laid the ground for the drugmakers with an evangelical promotion of opioids based on massaged scientific studies he has since repudiated.

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The maker of OxyContin has reached a settlement with the state of Oklahoma over the prescription painkiller's role in the nation's deadly opioid crisis, officials said on Tuesday... Individuals familiar with the matter said that Purdue Pharma LP and members of the Sackler family who own the company reached a $270m settlement, Reuters reported. 

A group made up of more than 500 cities, counties and Native American tribes across the United States has filed a massive lawsuit accusing members of the Sackler family, who own the maker of the opioid painkiller OxyContin, of helping to create “the worst drug crisis in American history”.

Stamford-based Purdue Pharmaceuticals, which is facing thousands of lawsuits pertaining to its role in stoking the opioid epidemic that has been blamed for the surge in drug overdose deaths, is taking a page out of embattled Cali utility PG&E's book.

In May 1997, the year after Purdue Pharma launched OxyContin, its head of sales and marketing sought input on a key decision from Dr. Richard Sackler, a member of the billionaire family that founded and controls the company. Michael Friedman told Sackler that he didn’t want to correct the false impression among doctors that OxyContin was weaker than morphine, because the myth was boosting prescriptions — and sales.

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