Pubdate: Wed, 12 Dec 2001
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2001 The New York Times Company
Author: Barry Meier
Bookmark: (Oxycontin)


WASHINGTON, Dec. 11 - The head of the Drug Enforcement Administration 
testified today that he believed that the aggressive promotion of the 
painkiller OxyContin by its maker had played a role in its widespread 

In comments before the House subcommittee on the departments of 
commerce, justice and state, the judiciary and related agencies, the 
administrator of the drug agency, Asa Hutchinson, said that Purdue 
Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin, had contributed to its 
"disproportionate abuse" by aggressively marketing it as less prone 
to abuse than similar drugs.

Dr. Paul D. Goldenheim, a top executive of Purdue Pharma, which is 
based in Stamford, Conn., vehemently disputed any suggestion that the 
company had inappropriately marketed the drug.

Today's hearing came as lawmakers grappled with how to prevent 
powerful narcotics like OxyContin from falling into the wrong hands. 
The time-released drug is a valuable medication in the treatment of 
cancer and other types of chronic pain. But drug abusers quickly 
learned that the drug could provide a heroin-like high.

The drug agency has identified OxyContin as a likely factor in 296 
overdose deaths since January 2000.

Mr. Hutchinson said that the company had taken steps to address some 
of his concerns. Representative Frank R. Wolf, Republican of 
Virginia, said today that he would ask the General Accounting Office, 
the investigative arm of Congress, to conduct a study of how Purdue 
Pharma marketed the drug.

All those who testified today said they supported a far broader use 
of electronic systems that can help identify people who seek to fill 
unusually high numbers of prescriptions or doctors who write 
disproportionately large numbers of them.

At today's hearing, Dr. Goldenheim also came under questioning by 
Representative Harold Rogers, Republican of Kentucky, about an 
article on Monday in The New York Times that reported that Purdue 
Pharma did little if anything after salesmen were told by some 
pharmacists and a law enforcement official that doctors at a pain 
management clinic in Myrtle Beach, S.C., were suspected of 
inappropriately or excessively prescribing OxyContin.

Mr. Rogers pressed Dr. Goldenheim on why the company had not 
investigated a clinic where those questions were raised, given that 
the company's own sales data showed that the first-quarter growth of 
OxyContin sales in the Myrtle Beach area this year were significantly 
higher than its growth during that period in other parts of the 

Dr. Goldenheim, the company's executive vice president for research 
development and regulatory and medical affairs, said that Purdue 
Pharma had distributed brochures to pharmacists describing how to 
identify individuals seeking to abuse prescription drugs. He also 
said that the company understood that some pharmacists in South 
Carolina had already contacted law enforcement officials who were 
investigating the clinic.

Mr. Rogers was not satisfied. "Your company did nothing and people 
were dying," he said.

Dr. Goldenheim replied that the company had never done anything to 
cause its drug to be used improperly and that there was little it 
could do to control the actions of doctors.

"We don't control what they prescribe," Dr. Goldenheim said. "We 
can't stop them from prescribing our product."

Mr. Rogers paused briefly and said, "We can."
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