Multibillion-dollar opioid drug maker Purdue Pharma has filed for bankruptcy protection. The company is facing more than 2,600 lawsuits alleging it helped fuel the deadly opioid epidemic in the United States.
Beginning in the late 1990s there was a rapid increase in the use of prescription opioid drugs. By 2011 they had become the most prescribed class of medications in the United States. Chemically related to heroin, and with similar devastating effects on health, prescription opioids are highly addictive. Almost 218,000 Americans are believed to have lost their lives between 1999 and 2017 as a result of overdosing on these drugs.
Purdue Pharma, a U.S. drug company, is seen by many observers as having been largely responsible for the rise of this situation. After introducing OxyContin, a powerful opioid painkiller, in 1996, the company proceeded to market it aggressively as a drug that was supposedly less addictive, less subject to abuse, and less likely to cause narcotic side effects. But court filings now suggest that members of the Sackler family, who own Purdue, had directed efforts to mislead doctors and patients about its dangers.
Reports that Purdue was considering bankruptcy first emerged in March 2019. The company subsequently reached a $270 million settlement with the state of Oklahoma and avoided going to trial there. Even with its newly won bankruptcy protection, however, Purdue’s problems are far from over. In a further development, New York’s attorney general has alleged that the Sackler family used Swiss bank accounts to conceal the transfer of $1 billion to themselves. Further lawsuits are being brought directly against the Sacklers for the roles they are personally alleged to have played in fostering the opioid crisis.
For anyone who doubts that the pharmaceutical ‘business with disease’ puts profits before human health, the American opioid drug crisis provides a clear and sobering reminder of the facts.