The company behind OxyContin may have a little secret—that it knew early on about people abusing its powerful painkilling drug and said nothing, the New York Times reports. Purdue Pharma executives received reports of "significant" abuse soon after Oxycontin's 1996 release, including people stealing and snorting the drug, according to a confidential Justice Department report. But when a four-year federal probe recommended felony charges against three senior Purdue Pharma executives, Justice officials in George W. Bush's administration didn't back the strategy and opted to settle in 2007. Three executives took sole responsibility, pleading guilty to a misdemeanor "misbranding" charge, and with the company paid $634.5 million in fines.
The Times chronicles OxyContin's journey through the marketplace, from its questionable FDA approval to Purdue salespeople claiming OxyContin was less addictive than other opioids (despite its high narcotic levels). Reports emerged of Oxycontin's predecessor drug, MS Contin, being abused, and by 1999 Purdue officials apparently learned that OxyContin was called "the hottest thing on the street—forget Vicodin." Then came the 2007 case, which Justice officials called a win, while others saw an opportunity lost. "It would have been a turning point," says a former DEA official. "It would have sent a message to the entire drug industry." Meanwhile drug companies fueled the opioid crisis by sending pills to areas plagued by drug abuse, supplying West Virginia with enough to give each person 433 pills over a five-year period, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reports. (Read more OxyContin stories.)