"We have restructured and significantly reduced our commercial operation and will no longer be promoting opioids to prescribers", the company said in a statement. "Requests for information about our opioid products will be handled through direct communication with the highly experienced healthcare professionals that comprise our Medical Affairs department".
Allergan, which makes three opioid pain medications, said it has not actively marketed those drugs in years, and Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a unit of Johnson & Johnson, said it stopped marketing the medications in 2015.
Opioids, though, were involved in more than 42,000 overdose deaths in 2016, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the most recent figures suggest that 145 Americans now die every day from overdoses.
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A pharmacist holds prescription painkiller OxyContin, 40mg pills, made by Purdue Pharma L.D.at a local pharmacy, in Provo, Utah, U.S., April 25, 2017.
"We are deeply troubled by the opioid crisis, and we are dedicated to being part of the solution", the company said. Its sales representatives will now focus on Symproic, a drug for treating opioid-induced constipation, and other potential nonopioid products, Purdue said.
"The genie is already out of the bottle", said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, director of opioid policy research at Brandeis University and an advocate for stronger regulation of opioid drug companies. "But if other opioid manufacturers would do the same, it would have a bigger effect". Users, however, later learned that they could be heroin-like high from the drug by crushing the pills or by injecting or snorting them.
The health insurer Cigna also announced in October it would no longer cover OxyContin through employer-based plans, shortly after the pharmaceutical industry lobby group PhRMA broadly endorsed policies that limit opioid prescriptions to seven days. But he said the companies have promoted them as a treatment for chronic pain, where they are more harmful and less helpful, because it's more profitable. The institute also found that the United States is the biggest consumer of hydrocodone in the world, taking in nearly 100 percent of the world's doses. The company in 2007 paid out $600 million to settle civil and criminal charges related to the drug's marketing, with three company executives agreeing to pay an additional $34.5 million.