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OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma stops promoting opioids, cuts sales staff

OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma said on Saturday that it has cut its sales force in half and will stop promoting opioids to physicians, following widespread criticism of the ways drugmakers market addictive painkillers.

The drugmaker said it will inform doctors Monday that its sales representatives will no longer visit physicians’ offices to discuss the company’s opioid products. It will now have about 200 sales representatives, Purdue said.

“We have restructured and significantly reduced our commercial operation and will no longer be promoting opioids to prescribers,” the company, based in Stamford, Conn., said in a statement.

Doctors with questions about opioids will be directed to the company’s medical affairs department. Its sales representatives will focus on Symproic, a drug for treating opioid-induced constipation, as well as other potential non-opioid products, Purdue said.

Opioids were involved in more than 42,000 overdose deaths in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Amid the opioid epidemic, Purdue and other drugmakers have been fighting a wave of lawsuits by states, counties and cities that have accused them of pushing addictive painkillers through deceptive marketing.

The lawsuits have generally accused Purdue of significantly playing down the risk of addiction posed by OxyContin and engaging in misleading marketing that overstated the benefits of opioids for treating chronic rather than short-term pain.

At least 14 states have sued the privately held Purdue. Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall filed a lawsuit Tuesday accusing Purdue of deceptively marketing prescription opioids to generate billions of dollars in sales.

Purdue is also facing a federal investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Connecticut.

Purdue has denied the allegations in the various lawsuits. It has said its drugs are approved by the Food and Drug Administration and account for only 2 percent of all opioid prescriptions.

Purdue and three of its executives pleaded guilty in 2007 to federal charges related to the misbranding of OxyContin and agreed to pay a total of $634.5 million to resolve a Justice Department investigation.

That year, Purdue also reached a $19.5 million settlement with 26 states and the District of Columbia. It agreed in 2015 to pay $24 million to resolve a lawsuit filed by Kentucky.