Selling OxyContin: How Abbott Labs Engendered Opioid Crisis

Print More reports on the extraordinary sales efforts of Abbott Laboratories to push medical professionals to write prescriptions for the potent painkiller OxyContin. The health-and-medicine news organization says newly released court documents “shows the lengths to which Abbott went to hook in doctors and make OxyContin a billion-dollar blockbuster.” Purdue Pharma LP, the Connecticut company that developed OxyContin, has been vilified for planting the seeds of today’s opioid crisis, which kills an estimated 78 Americans a day. But the role of Abbott in pushing the drug has largely escaped notice. The documents reveal it was a crucial partner in the aggressive — and misleading — selling of OxyContin during its first decade on the market.

Abbott’s relationship with Purdue and its part in building the OxyContin brand are detailed in previously secret court filings unsealed by a Welch, W.Va., state court judge at the request of STAT. The records were part of a case brought by the state of West Virginia against Purdue and Abbott that alleged they inappropriately marketed the drug, causing users to become addicted to the opioid. The documents include internal Abbott and Purdue memos, as well as sales documents and marketing materials. They show that Abbott sales reps were instructed to downplay the threat of addiction with OxyContin and make other claims to doctors that had no scientific basis. Abbott, with a sales force entrenched in hospitals and surgical centers, devoted at least 300 sales reps to OxyContin sales. Abbott marketed OxyContin from 1996 through 2002. Sales of OxyContin went from $49 million in its first full year on the market to $1.6 billion in 2002. Over the life of the partnership, Purdue paid Abbott nearly $500 million.

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