The [Pharma] Family that built and empire on pain
Sales reps, May told me, received training in “overcoming objections” from clinicians. If a doctor inquired about addiction, May had a talking point ready. “ ‘The delivery system is believed to reduce the abuse liability of the drug,’ ” he recited to me, with a rueful laugh. “Those were the specific words. I can still remember, all these years later.” He went on, “I found out pretty fast that it wasn’t true.” In 2002, a sales manager from the company, William Gergely, told a state investigator in Florida that Purdue executives “told us to say things like it is ‘virtually’ non-addicting.”
A 1995 memo sent to the launch team emphasized that the company did “not want to niche” OxyContin just for cancer pain. A primary objective in Purdue’s 2002 budget plan was to “broaden” the use of OxyContin for pain management. As May put it, “What Purdue did really well was target physicians, like general practitioners, who were not pain specialists.” In its internal literature, Purdue similarly spoke of reaching patients who were “opioid naïve.” Because OxyContin was so powerful and potentially addictive, David Kessler told me, from a public-health standpoint “the goal should have been to sell the least dose of the drug to the smallest number of patients.” But this approach was at odds with the competitive imperatives of a pharmaceutical company, he continued. So Purdue set out to do exactly the opposite.