It looks like the makers of OxyContin, Purdue Pharma, are looking for a new golden goose. They recently got approval on a patent to make a new form of buprenorphine. Purdue Pharma has been in deep water for their shenanigans regarding the opiate crisis. Back in the late 90's, OxyContin was peddled to doctors under the pretense that it was less addicting than other opiates. They used aggressive sales tactics and false information to get more doctors to prescribe their extended-release oxycodone. Knowing that their golden goose, Oxy, was drying up, they decided it was time to help all of those people that they got addicted to opiates in the first place. They are following suit with Indivior, the British makers of Suboxone, who made $877 billion in Suboxone sales in 2017 in the US alone. Could this buprenorphine patent indeed become Purdue Pharma's next golden goose?
Purdue Pharma, a private company held by the Sackler family, used some shady practices to hock their OxyContin. The company claimed that it offered 12 hours of extended-release pain management and that this extended release was why it was less addicting; Contin being short for continuous. They never actually ran any studies on these claims that Oxy was less addicting, but the FDA allowed them to advertise it as so, neither did the pill last a full 12 hours. It was also super easy to clean off the outer coating and be left over with a huge ass dose of oxycodone to smoke, snort, or shoot.
OxyContin was created because Purdue Pharma’s patent for MS Contin, a "controlled release" morphine pill, was up and they needed a new medication to fill the coffers. They created Oxy and then used unethical marketing tactics to sell their poison and make billions. Now that people in the US have copped on, doctor shopping is not as easy as it once was, nor are opiate scripts in general. Though opioids are still prescribed regularly, they are so at a lower rate. There was a decrease in opiate prescriptions by 19% between 2006 and 2017, with the percentage of high dose opiate prescriptions being cut in half. This means that there is less Oxy on the street, though this is more likely due to the 2010 reformulation of Oxy. Purdue Pharma changed their recipe for Oxy so that it gels up when crushed–this is to deter snorting or injecting the drug, it does not prevent taking the medication orally. At the same time that the drug was reformulated in August of 2010, deaths from heroin also increased. It appears that many people addicted to Oxy made the switch from pharmaceuticals to street drugs.
The correlation to OxyContin prescription and the opioid crisis is too convincing to not look at it as a catalyst to the burgeoning crisis. If you look on Purdue Pharma’ s website, they have an open letter to address the opioid crisis. It may seem altruistic, but reading between the lines, what they are really saying is that they are not responsible and do not take credit for the shit storm of opiate addiction that they helped create–they are going to do something about the opiate crisis because they care. This is where buprenorphine comes in. They are formulating a novel form of buprenorphine to help get people off of the drugs they are addicted to, which they also had a hand in. It is like having someone sell poison to you and then having them charge you even more for the antidote.
In February of this year, Purdue Pharma has said that it was stopping marketing opioid drugs to doctors, even cutting their sales department down to a mere 200 people who will focus on non-opiate medications. What they failed to mention in their press release is that Mundipharma, a Purdue related company, has expanded their opioid marketing strategies to countries like Brazil and China. We also didn't know that when they made this announcement, they were formulating a novel form of buprenorphine. I imagine that once this new medication is on the market, their sales department will swell in numbers again and their new golden goose will start laying eggs.
If you would like to read an interesting article about the history of OxyContin, Purdue Pharma, and the Sackler Family, New Yorker ran a brilliant article about this in 2017