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Purdue Pharma, maker of the painkiller drug OxyContin, has agreed to stop marketing opioid drugs to doctors. OxyContin, a timed-release version of oxycodone, was first approved in 1995. The company marketed the drug aggressively, inviting doctors, nurses and pharmacists to all-expense-paid conferences at resorts in California, Florida and Arizona.

Sales reps received generous bonuses tied to OxyContin sales, creating incentives for more visits to physicians who treated chronic pain. Sales of the drug rose from $48 million in 1996 to nearly $1.1 billion in 2000 and continued to climb. In 2001, Purdue paid $40 million in sales-incentive bonuses. But by 2004, OxyContin had become a significant drug of abuse.

Users were able to obtain a heroin-like high by crushing the pills to defeat the timed-release feature. In 2007, Purdue and three of its executives pled guilty to criminal charges stemming from a federal investigation into the company’s claims that OxyContin was less addictive and less subject to abuse than other opioids. They paid $634 million in fines.

The company has faced hundreds of private lawsuits related to misrepresenting the risk of addiction to OxyContin. That’s apparently what led to Purdue’s decision to halt marketing of opioid drugs. Opioids are prescribed for severe pain, including cancer-related pain, but the market for chronic, non-cancer-related pain accounted for 86 percent of the total opioid market in 1999.


Part of the cost can be measured in higher drug prices to account for the risk of litigation. Another cost, one that can’t be measured, is the suffering that might have been alleviated if a drug that could have been brought to market is instead left on the drawing board out of fear that its abuse could bring down the company.


The kids demand adults act on guns

“You are responsible.” That’s what students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School chanted at a rally in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, following the most recent school massacre, which took place at their school and left 17 of their fellow students and teachers dead. It’s not a chant that flows gracefully from the tongue. Yet its meaning is clear. In their simplicity, the three words pack a wallop: By failing to act, elected officials bear responsibility for the scourge of gun violence in America. For too many of them, protecting unfettered access to guns is more important than protecting lives.

But it is not only elected officials. The public, too, needs to become more engaged — and demand that its leaders be. This is the service the students of Stoneman Douglas High are providing by organizing a “March for Our Lives” next month in Washington. (The march has received support from Everytown for Gun Safety, which is backed by Bloomberg LP founder Michael Bloomberg.) The kids are not buying the evasive plea that “now is not the time” to discuss gun politics.

While it’s too soon to tell what impact their activism will have, President Donald Trump is paying attention — he held a “listening session” with survivors of school shootings on Wednesday, and has ordered the Justice Department to ban bump stocks, the device used by the shooter who killed more than 50 people at a concert in Las Vegas last year. But so far he has been careful to avoid rhetoric or action that would offend the gun lobby.

Majority opinion favors sensible gun regulation, including near-universal support for universal background checks. Activating that majority, turning passive supporters into mobilized activists, is the key to stopping more gun violence. “My message for the people in office,” student Cameron Kasky told CNN, “is you’re either with us or against us.”

Binary choices in public debates are rarely helpful. But too many Americans have allowed bad faith and fanaticism to hold this field for far too long. The madness will end where responsibility begins.


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