Purdue exec agreed to hide OxyContin strength from doctors: report

Purdue Pharma executive Richard Sackler agreed to hide the strength of opioid OxyContin from doctors, ProPublica and STAT reported Thursday.

Sackler allegedly agreed not to contest the belief that OxyContin was less potent than morphine at the suggestion of sales and marketing director Michael Friedman, the outlets said emails that appear in a sealed court deposition.

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“It would be extremely dangerous at this early stage in the life of the product,” Friedman reportedly wrote to Sackler in 1997, “to make physicians think the drug is stronger or equal to morphine….We are well aware of the view held by many physicians that oxycodone is weaker than morphine. I do not plan to do anything about that.”

“I agree with you,” Sackler reportedly responded. “Is there a general agreement, or are there some holdouts?”

Sackler is a member of the family that owns Purdue and has served on its board of directors, including as co-chairman of the board. 

In 2007, the corporation pleaded guilty to downplaying OxyContin's strength and paid a $600 million fine. In the agreement, Friedman pleaded guilty to "misbranding" the company, but Sackler's name does not appear in the plea agreement

"During the deposition, Dr. Sackler described Purdue’s efforts to adhere to all relevant laws and regulations" Purdue Pharma spokesperson Bob Josephson said in a statement to The Hill. "Dr. Sackler’s statements in the deposition fully acknowledge the wrongful actions taken by some of Purdue’s employees prior to 2002 as laid out in the 2007 Agreed Statement of Facts with the Department of Justice, and that the company has accepted full responsibility for those actions."

He added that the leak was a "clear violation of the court’s order" to seal the 2015 deposition, which he said was part of a settled lawsuit between Purdue Pharma and the Commonwealth of Kentucky. 

An opioid addiction epidemic has been ravaging the country. More than 130 people die every day from opioid overdoses, according a National Institute on Drug Abuse report from January.