OxyContin Maker Cuts Half Of Sales Staff, Stops Promoting Painkillers To Doctors

Kristoffer Tripplaar via NBC News

Kristoffer Tripplaar via NBC News

Prescription opioid giant Purdue Pharma will stop promoting its opioid drugs to doctors, a retreat after years of criticism that the company's aggressive sales efforts helped lay the foundation for the US addiction crisis.

It plans to send a letter Monday to doctors saying that its sales representatives will no longer come to their clinics to promote the company's pain-relieving products. Doctors and other prescribers who have questions about the drugs will have to contact Purdue's medical affairs department, . The move reduces the sales staff to 200 employees. Its sales representatives will now focus on Symproic, a drug for treating opioid-induced constipation, and other potential non-opioid products, Purdue said.

At least 14 states have sued privately held Purdue. Instead, the company said it will direct prescribers to materials published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the office of the USA surgeon general.

The pharmaceutical giant behind the painkiller OxyContin is "restructuring", announcing Friday they will stop promoting their opioid-based drug to doctors.

The lawsuits have generally accused Purdue of downplaying OxyContin's addiction risk and of misleading marketing that overstated the benefits of opioids for treating chronic, rather than short-term, pain. Most recently, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall filed a lawsuit on Tuesday accusing Purdue of deceptively marketing prescription opioids to generate billions of dollars in sales. It has said its drugs are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and account for only 2 percent of all opioid prescriptions.

Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty in 2007 to felony charges for false marketing of OxyContin and paid $635 million as a result. He has yet to declare it a national emergency as he pledged to do in August following a recommendation by a presidential commission.