OxyContin maker stops promoting opioids, cuts sales staff

Feb 10 (Reuters) - OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma LP said on Saturday that it has cut its sales force in half and stop promoting opioids to physicians, following widespread criticism of the ways that drugmakers market addictive painkillers.

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

After the job cuts, the company will have about 200 sales reps focused on promoting non-opioid products, the statement said.

A wave of lawsuits by states, counties and cities have accused drugmakers of pushing addictive painkillers through deceptive marketing and wholesale distributors of failing to report suspicious drug orders.

A group of state attorneys general have been conducting a multistate investigation into whether companies that manufacture and distribute prescription opioids engaged in unlawful practices.

The company’s sales representatives will stop visiting physician offices and doctors will need to call the company’s medical affairs department to obtain information about its opioid products, the company’s head of medical affairs, Monica Kwarcinski, said in note to healthcare professionals that the company provided to Reuters.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall alleged in a lawsuit filed Tuesday in a federal court that Purdue misrepresented the risks and benefits of opioids, enabling the widespread prescribing of the drugs for chronic pain conditions.

The lawsuit said that as Purdue reaped significant profits, Alabama suffered significant costs as a result of a public health crisis that had led to hundreds of deaths in the state each year due to opioid overdoses.

Stamford, Connecticut-based Purdue denied the allegations in a statement, which said its drugs are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and account for only 2 percent of all opioid prescriptions.

“As a company grounded in science, we must balance patient access to FDA-approved medicines, while working collaboratively to solve this public health challenge,” Purdue said.

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

Reporting by Jim Finkle; Editing by Nick Zieminski