Pubdate: Sat, 21 Jul 2007
Source: Roanoke Times (VA)
Copyright: 2007 Roanoke Times
Note: First priority is to those letter-writers who live in circulation area.
Author: Laurence Hammack
Bookmark: (Chronic Pain)
Bookmark: (Oxycontin/Oxycodone)


The Deal Ordering $634.5 Million Over OxyContin's Marketing Is One Of
The Largest Such Fines

ABINGDON, Va. --A pharmaceutical company and three executives were
fined $634.5 million Friday for the deceptive marketing of OxyContin,
a painkiller that reaped billions for the company and misery for its
victims. Before accepting a plea agreement between federal prosecutors
and Purdue Pharma, Judge James Jones said he was troubled by the lack
of jail sentences for three company officials.

"While this may not be a popular decision, my job is not to make
popular decisions but to follow the law," Jones said.

Earlier in the day, the three Purdue executives sat impassively
through emotional statements by people who blame them for the overdose
deaths of their loved ones. Other speakers recounted their own
near-death experiences with addiction to a potent painkiller hailed by
the company as a miracle drug in the fight against pain.

One woman brandished an urn holding the ashes of her cremated son at
the defendants.

"This is from your drug, OxyContin, and here he is, in this
courtroom," said Lee Nuss of Palm Coast, Fla., whose 18-year-old son,
Randall, died from an overdose. "Here he is, for you all to see."

Friday's sentencing in U.S. District Court in Abingdon ended a lengthy
federal investigation that forced guilty pleas from a company that has
long argued it should not be held responsible for what happens when
its painkiller is abused.

It also put three millionaires in the defendant's chair, forcing them
to travel from Connecticut, where Purdue is based, to a small mountain
town that once was an epicenter of OxyContin abuse.

Also making the trip to Abingdon were about 50 people from around the
country who held a vigil near the courthouse in a steady rain before
going inside. "Gentlemen, you are responsible for a modern-day
plague," the mother of an addict told Michael Friedman, Howard Udell
and Paul Goldenheim. Other speakers called the three men monsters,
corporate drug lords, sheer evil and as bad as Adolf Hitler.

At a hearing in May, Purdue and its three executives admitted to their
roles in misbranding the drug or misleading doctors about its
propensity for abuse and addiction during a nationwide marketing blitz.

At the time, Friedman was the company's president and chief executive
officer, Udell was its chief legal counsel and Goldenheim was the
director of medical affairs. Friedman and Goldenheim have since
retired. Jones placed all three men on probation for three years and
ordered them to perform 400 hours of community service related to
treatment or education issues involving prescription drug abuse.

"I do not doubt that many of our fellow citizens, with only a passing
knowledge of this case gleaned from the headlines, will deem it
inappropriate that no jail time is imposed," the judge said. "It
bothers me, too."

However, Jones said it would be improper to send someone to jail for
something they didn't actually do.

Under a rarely used law, Friedman, Udell and Goldenheim were held
criminally accountable for misbranding committed by other company
officials. In order to obtain convictions, prosecutors did not have to
prove they even knew that crimes were being committed under their watch.

Not only were the convictions based solely on the executives'
positions of responsibility, there was also no evidence to link the
misbranding to rampant abuse of OxyContin.

"It does not for one minute disrespect the suffering of these families
to say that there is absolutely nothing ... to suggest that the
misbranding in any way contributed to, let alone was responsible for,
their suffering," said Howard Shapiro, a Washington, D.C., attorney
who represented Purdue. Although prosecutors have alluded to such a
connection, they did not have to prove one. Under the plea agreement,
Friedman, Udell and Goldenheim paid combined fines of $34.5 million
for their misdemeanor offenses Purdue Frederick, the parent company of
Purdue Pharma, pleaded guilty to a felony of misbranding with the
intent to defraud. It will shoulder the remaining $600 million in
fines and forfeitures. Most of the money will go to cover losses by
government programs that paid for OxyContin prescriptions and to other
state and federal agencies.

The fine is one of the largest ever assessed against a pharmaceutical
company. In asking Jones to accept the plea agreement, Assistant U.S.
Attorney Randy Ramseyer said the "unprecedented" convictions will
force the entire industry to be more vigilant in guarding against
prescription drug abuse. "By pleading guilty, they are admitting that
doing nothing is not good enough," Ramseyer said. "They should have
done something." Before Friday's sentencing, about 50 people attended
a rally near the courthouse, holding posters with slogans such as "Oxy
kills" and "Purdue Pharma murdered my wife."

Speakers read the names of people from across the country who died
from OxyContin overdoses. The list was 50 pages long. They had only
read the first 10 pages before it was time to leave.

Robert Palmisano, a recovering addict, wiped tears from his eyes as he
read the names in a voice that often broke.

"It almost took my life. I know people whose lives it took. It doesn't
need to take any more," Palmisano said.

In far Southwest Virginia alone, more than 200 people have died in the
past decade from overdoses of oxycodone, an opium-based narcotic that
is the active ingredient in OxyContin. Police have also reported
dramatic increases in crime as addicts turn to fraud, theft and
violence to support their habits. U.S. Attorney John Brownlee has
called OxyContin one of the worst prescription drug failures in the
nation's history.

"Every time someone hears the word OxyContin, they will think in their
minds, that's the drug the company was convicted for," Brownlee said.
"I think that goes a long way."
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