The selling of OxyContin
While opioids had long been reserved primarily for terminal cancer patients, ads in medical journals touted OxyContin — with up to twice the potency of morphine — as a safer alternative to even Aspirin and Tylenol and good for anyone who needed pain relief for “several days” or more.
It was not long before OxyContin was being widely prescribed in the Vancouver area, notes Dr. Thomas Perry, a local physician-pharmacologist, in an affidavit filed in a Nova Scoita class-action lawsuit against Purdue. Sales accelerated across the country, soaring from $3-million in 1998 to $243-million last year, according to IMS-Brogan, which tracks drug trends.
“The biggest surprise for us in Canada at the time was how fast it took off,” said Dwain May, a former Purdue executive in Alberta.
“This campaign was amazingly successful,” said Dr. Mel Kahan, a University of Toronto addiction expert. “It was probably the most successful marketing campaign in history as far as I know for any class of drug.”
What happened next is now common knowledge, though the full extent of the “Hillbilly heroin’s” dark side has only recently become apparent. Addiction to the “low-abuse” drug — and other, similar opioid painkillers — has reached near-epidemic proportions, with 140 people a year in Ontario alone dying from overdoses related to the drug, more than are killed in drowning mishaps, according to the province’s coroner. Victims include street users, people taking what their doctor prescribed and those getting OxyContin from both legal and underground sources. (Photo: Jeff Siner/Chartlotte Observer)