The pharmaceutical company responsible for flooding the United States with the highly addictive painkiller OxyContin has now patented a new drug to treat opioid addiction. Rhodes Technologies Inc. filed for a patent earlier this year for a new form of buprenorphine, a mild opioid marketed under the brand name Suboxone to treat addiction to stronger drugs.
But Rhodes Technologies is a subsidiary of Purdue Pharmaceuticals, whose aggressively marketed drug OxyContin helped fuel the international epidemic of opioid overdoses. Dr. Richard Sackler, a member of the family that controls Purdue, is listed as the inventor of the drug on the patent application. The Sackler family made billions of dollars from the sale of OxyContin.
The connection has caused some addiction services professionals to cry foul. Joe Schrank, the co-founder of Remedy Recovery, a San Francisco center that incorporates cannabis into addiction therapy, is one of them.
“It’s unconscionable that Purdue is allowed to profit from the havoc to which they contributed,” Schrank told High Times via email. “They should be required to give a percentage to treatment options. Cannabis is a far better option and more people should be educated about that.”
Luke Nasta, the director of New York addiction treatment center Camelot, expressed similar sentiments to the Financial Times.
“It’s reprehensible what Purdue Pharma has done to our public health,” Nasta said.
He also believes that the company “shouldn’t be allowed to peddle any more synthetic opiates — and that includes opioid substitutes.”
Purdue Pharmaceuticals is also facing legal backlash for its role in the opioid epidemic. In Colorado last week, Attorney General Cynthia H. Coffman filed a suit against the company that alleges “fraudulent and deceptive marketing of prescription opioids played a significant role in causing the opioid epidemic ravaging Colorado and the rest of the nation,” according to a press release.
“Purdue unleashed a surge of prescription opioids on Coloradans while hiding the facts about their drugs’ addictive properties,” said Attorney General Coffman. “Their corporate focus on making money took precedence over patients’ long-term health, and Colorado has been paying the price in loss of life and devastation of its communities as they struggle to address the ongoing opioid crisis.”
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper expressed his support for the lawsuit brought by the state’s attorney general.
“Purdue failed in its responsibility to ensure that consumers understood the risks associated with their products,” said Hickenlooper. “We applaud this action and believe it is appropriate to safeguard the health of all Coloradans. We will do everything we can to support transparency in health care. Pharmaceutical companies play a vital role in our health care system, but trust in those companies and their products is critical.”
In a statement responding to the Colorado lawsuit, Purdue Pharmaceuticals pledged to help the state address the opioid crisis while downplaying its culpability.
“We share the state’s concern about the opioid crisis,” the statement reads. “While our opioid medicines account for less than 2% of total prescriptions, we will continue to work collaboratively with the state toward bringing meaningful solutions to address this public health challenge.”
However, that offer of help may be too little, too late. Coffman said that firms like Purdue can expect further legal action nationwide.
“Today’s lawsuit is only the beginning,” said Coffman. “My office, in partnership with federal, state, and local authorities around the country, will continue to investigate and pursue justice against drug companies that earn billions of dollars from prescription opioids while millions of people suffer and die.”
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