Report: OxyContin Makers Ignored Internal Warnings Of “Organized Drug Ring” & Pill Mills

As the current opioid addiction/overdose epidemic spread out across America over the last 20 years, it wasn’t just greedy drugstore chains that turned a blind eye to fake and questionable prescriptions. A new report highlights how the company behind one of the epidemic’s signature drugs ignored warning signs of obvious illegal activity.

In the second part of its in-depth investigation into OxyContin and its maker, Purdue Pharma, the L.A. Times looks at how Purdue failed to respond to red flags raised by its own employees.

For example, in one week in 2008, a single doctor in Los Angeles wrote prescriptions for 1,500 OxyContin pills — and not just any Oxy pills, but at the incredibly potent (and sought after) 80mg version. Sold on the street, those 1,500 pills could be worth more than $100,000.

Some pharmacies weren’t even filling that many Oxy requests in a full month, which is a red flag on its own. It wasn’t a fluke: The next month, that same doctor wrote prescriptions for 11,000 Oxy pills.

A sales manager at Purdue HQ saw this spike in orders, and suggested in an email to her colleagues that the Drug Enforcement Agency be notified.

“I feel very certain this is an organized drug ring,” wrote the manager.

However, Purdue took no action regarding this clinic, instead choosing to add it to an internal watch list — dubbed “Region Zero” — of some 1,800 doctors suspected of writing reckless prescriptions.

Being placed on the list didn’t curb sales; it just prevented sales reps from making visits to the clinic.

Meanwhile, multiple L.A.-area pharmacies raised concerns about the sketchy clinic directly to Purdue, noting that a large number of young, rather ambulatory “patients” were coming in with prescriptions for a drug that is normally given only to people with severe, chronic pain.

One pharmacist asked the sales manager — the one who had initially voiced concerns over the spike in sales — if this clinic was “legit,” but says that the company never responded.

Not all pharmacies were as concerned about these prescriptions. According to the Times, some stores’ sales of 80mg OxyContin jumped by 400% in just two months, with one small Panorama City pharmacy selling more Oxy than any other pharmacy in the entire state of California.

A former Purdue exec who spent five years as part of the team reviewing pharmacies flagged as problematic claims the company never stopped the sale of Oxy to any of these stores.

Even after Purdue tipped off the DEA to one Las Vegas pharmacy that had grown to become one of the top-five Oxy-selling stores in the entire country, Purdue didn’t fully shut off the store’s access to Oxy.

For its part, Purdue maintains that it “at all times complied with the law.”

The company’s general counsel tells the Times that the reason it didn’t fully shut off access to OxyContin to problem pharmacies and distributors was because it did not want to punish patients with legitimate needs for the drug.

As for Purdue’s decisions to not report its knowledge of problem physicians, he explains that “It would be irresponsible to direct every single anecdotal and often unconfirmed claim of potential misprescribing to these organizations.”

There’s a lot more in the L.A. Times story. Click here to check it out.

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