HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Oxycontin's Maker Under Investigation In Southwest Virginia
Pubdate: Tue, 14 Jun 2005
Source: Roanoke Times (VA)
Copyright: 2005 Roanoke Times
Author:  Laurence Hammack and Jen McCaffery
Bookmark: (Oxycontin/Oxycodone)


A Purdue Pharma Spokesman Confirmed The Investigation, Saying "We Are
Aware Of Nothing That Should Reasonably Lead To Charges."

Federal authorities in Southwest Virginia are investigating the drug
company Purdue Pharma for its marketing of the painkiller OxyContin, a
company spokesman confirmed Monday.

"Purdue has total confidence in the honesty and integrity of its officers
and directors, and is cooperating in that investigation," said Purdue Pharma
spokesman Tim Bannon. "We are aware of nothing that should reasonably lead
to charges as a result of this investigation."

Bannon said the company first learned of the investigation in December

This is not the first time Purdue Pharma has faced questions from
Virginia prosecutors. In 2001, then-Attorney General Mark Earley
requested a meeting with company officials to discuss reports of
growing abuse of the painkiller, which at the time was described as
the drug of choice for abusers in far Southwest Virginia.

"There have been a number of inquiries, but none of them have been
criminal in nature," Bannon said. "We have responded to all of those

Heidi Coy, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Roanoke,
declined to comment Monday, citing the office's policy of neither
confirming nor denying an ongoing investigation.

An attorney in New York City, Paul Hanly, said one of his clients was
subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury in Abingdon in early
2004. He described his client as a legal assistant who worked in the
head office of Purdue Pharma in Stamford, Conn. He declined to
identify his client.

Federal prosecutor Randy Ramseyer interviewed Hanly's client about
when company officials became aware of the abuse of OxyContin, Hanly
said. Ramseyer did not ultimately call Hanly's client to testify
before the grand jury, Hanly said. He does not know why. Ramseyer, who
is based in Abingdon, could not be reached for comment Monday.

Hanly said his understanding was that the investigation concerns when
Purdue Pharma officials found out about the widespread abuse of
OxyContin. Purdue Pharma has maintained that company officials only
knew about isolated cases of abuse until the winter of 2000, when they
were alerted to problems by the U.S. Attorney in Maine, Hanly said.

But Hanly said internal documents his client knew about showed that
company officials knew that people were crushing, snorting and
injecting OxyContin dating back to 1997 and 1998. They also knew that
the abuse was widespread, Hanly said. He also represents several
hundred clients around the United States who have sued Purdue Pharma
after they became addicted to OxyContin.

Company officials continued to sell billions of dollars worth of
OxyContin even though they knew early on it was being abused,
according to Hanly.

The company's marketing practices have long been a concern of

However, a probe by the Government Accountability Office, the
investigative arm of Congress, stopped short of linking Purdue
Pharma's promotional efforts to widespread abuse of OxyContin.

A GAO report released last year noted that some company sales
representatives received large bonuses for targeting selected doctors.
The amount of bonuses the company rewarded to its sales force grew
from $1 million in 1996, the year OxyContin hit the market, to $40
million in 2001, according to the report.

Purdue Pharma changed part of its policy regarding bonuses four years
ago following a meeting with federal authorities in Roanoke, the
report stated.

OxyContin abuse first became a key priority among Virginia law
enforcement officials in 2001, when figures from the medical
examiner's office in Roanoke showed a rapidly increasing number of
fatal overdoses from oxycodone.

Since then, deaths from methadone and other prescription drugs have
surpassed those caused by oxycodone, the key ingredient in OxyContin.
Last year, 37 people died from oxycodone overdoses in the western half
of Virginia, according to Dr. William Massello, assistant chief
medical examiner.

Methadone caused 69 deaths in the region last year, Massello said, and
another 59 were attributed to hydrocodone, a class of painkillers that
includes Vicodin and Lortab. Deaths from oxycodone ranked third in the
region, which saw 201 total drug deaths last year - a decrease of
about 20 from the year before.

Although questions about Purdue Pharma's marketing of OxyContin have
been raised by critics of the company, lawsuits filed by people who
claimed they became addicted to the drug while taking it as patients
have mostly been unsuccessful.

Last year, a federal judge in Abingdon dismissed lawsuits filed by
three men who claimed the company over-promoted the painkiller while
ignoring its risks - rendering them addicts while reaping billions in

In dismissing the cases, U.S. District Court Judge James Jones said
the lawsuits were not the proper forum to address several questions,
one of them: "Did Purdue oversell OxyContin, for its own profit?"
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