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OxyContin Maker Guilty of Misleading Public

Purdue Pharma L.P., the maker of painkiller OxyContin, will pay $634.5 million in fines for saying the drug is less addictive than other pain medications. The lead prosecutor in the case and a drug safety advocate discuss the plea agreement.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    And now, punishing the makers of the drug OxyContin. Ray Suarez begins with some background.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    OxyContin, the powerful narcotic pain relief medication, has generated billions of dollars in sales since it was introduced to the market in 1996. Doctors prescribed the drug to millions suffering chronic pain.

    Yesterday, the government announced both fines and a plea agreement against the drug's manufacturer, Purdue Pharma. Under the plea deal, Purdue will pay $634 million in fines and other payments for misbranding their product. Prosecutors say the company described OxyContin as less addictive, thus less likely to be abused.

  • JOHN BROWNLEE, U.S. Attorney, Virginia:

    Despite knowing that OxyContin contained high concentrations of oxycodone, had an abuse potential similar to that of morphine, and was at least as addictive as other pain medications on the market, Purdue, beginning in January of 1996, with the intent to defraud and mislead, marketed and promoted OxyContin as less addictive, less subject to abuse and diversion, and less likely to cause tolerance and withdrawal than other pain medications.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Three current and former Purdue execs pleaded guilty to misdemeanors. Together they will pay almost $35 million of their own money in fines. Of the $600 million Purdue will pay, $130 million will be used to resolve civil suits brought by patients who say they became addicted to the drug.

    Over the years, OxyContin has legitimately helped many patients cope with pain, but its criminal abuse has been widespread. The drug has been connected with hundreds of deaths and arrests.

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