A former president of Purdue Pharma, the controversial drug manufacturer widely considered to have ignited the opioid epidemic through its aggressive marketing of OxyContin, has been awarded a patent for a new opioid addiction treatment.
Dr. Richard Sackler is one of the six individuals on the patent issued in January, the Financial Times first reported Friday. Critics expressed concern that Sackler, whose family is worth an estimated $13 billion largely from Purdue’s sale of opioid painkillers, now stands to profit further from medication that treats addiction to the very drugs peddled by his family.
The patent covers a new formulation of buprenorphine in a wafer form. The medication is shown to help people struggling with opioid addiction, and the Food and Drug Administration has already approved the drug in tablet and film form.
President Donald Trump declared the opioid epidemic a nationwide public health emergency in October, citing more than 300,000 Americans who have died from opioid overdoses since 2000.
Sackler, who served as Purdue’s president from 1999 to 2003, was instrumental in pushing OxyContin’s sales through one of the largest pharmaceutical marketing campaigns in history. The campaign worked: Doctors previously averse to prescribing opioids for pain management due to their addictiveness were convinced by Purdue’s aggressive tactics that OxyContin was safe to prescribe.
Purdue later admitted that its marketing campaign was a sham.
The company was ordered to pay $635 million after it and three top executives pleaded guilty to misleading doctors about the addictiveness of OxyContin and its potential for abuse between 1996 and 2001. Put into perspective, the fine represents less than one-quarter of the sales revenue OxyContin generated for the Sacklers during that six-year period.