Purdue: Drug Company or Genocidal Maniac?

What do you do when a pharmaceutical company creates a drug that doesn’t do what it says it does, the FDA approves it, and literally thousands of people die?


Here’s some cheery news to carry you into the weekend: Internal documents from Purdue Pharma LP — including official records from court cases and government investigations — reveal a massive, deadly fraud perpetrated on the American people and virtually ignored by the Obama administration.

Kathleen Frydl, an assistant professor in the history department at the University of California, Berkeley and a former fellow of the Wilson Center’s “Drug Wars” project, had this to say in a May 18, 2016, Huffington Post essay:

The LA Times investigation of Purdue Pharma’s manufacture and marketing of the narcotic painkiller OxyContin published last week should be regarded as a standard case study in corporate fraud.

Except this particular tale also features a body count.

This fact does nothing to call into question the validity of corporate fraud framework for understanding the story of OxyContin; it only makes its principal victims more visible, and the misbehavior in question more abhorrent, than is typical for the genre.

All the major features of Purdue’s handling of OxyContin conform to similar acts of corporate fraud perpetrated in recent years: It encompasses not only what the company did (lie to generate profit), but what government regulatory agencies failed to do (detect and expose those lies), as well as the absence of any serious legal or other penalties imposed on Purdue Pharma as a result (a $634.5 million fine on a drug that has earned it $31 billion in revenue, or 2% of earnings).1

The Los Angeles Times found that contrary to marketing claims that “one dose” of OxyContin “relieves pain for 12 hours, more than twice as long as generic medications” but consistent with Purdue’s own internal research, “the drug wears off hours early in many people.”2

Internal documents from Purdue Pharma LP — including official records from court cases and government investigations — reveal a massive, deadly fraud perpetrated on the American people and virtually ignored by the Obama administration.

“Over the last 20 years,” write Harriet Ryan, Lisa Girion, and Scott Glover, “more than 7 million Americans have abused OxyContin, according to the federal government’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The drug is widely blamed for setting off the nation’s prescription opioid epidemic, which has claimed more than 190,000 lives from overdoses involving OxyContin and other painkillers since 1999.”

At the same time, as Purdue notes in a one-page statement responding to detailed questions from the Times’ reporters, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “approved OxyContin as a 12-hour drug.”

Where a rent is sought, there shall be a 21st century government bureaucracy to grant it.

Grant it, co-sign it, suborn it…

“Scientific evidence amassed over more than 20 years,” writes Purdue Chief Medical Officer Dr. Gail Cawkwell, “including more than a dozen controlled clinical studies, supports FDA’s approval of 12-hour dosing for OxyContin.”

People who take Oxy experience higher highs and lower lows. Purdue makes piles of cash. FDA’s relationships with the industry it regulates remain cozy, like a hostage with sympathetic feelings toward his captor.

It’s all part of that “Two Americas” narrative that disgraced Democrat John Edwards used to talk about and other left-leaning politicians still rely on for motivation but do little to actually mitigate.

Last week, during a panel discussion at the annual Allied Social Sciences Association (ASSA) meeting in Chicago on January 6, 2017, Nobel laureate Angus Deaton described the American healthcare system as “optimally designed for rent-seeking and very poorly designed to improve people’s health.”

Reports Asher Schechter for Pro-Market, the Stigler Center at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business blog:

While some forms of inequality could be linked to progress and innovation, said Deaton, inequality in the U.S. does not stem from creative destruction. “A lot of the inequality in the U.S. is not like this. It comes from rent-seeking. It comes from firms and industry seeking special protection or special favors from the government,” he said.3

People who take Oxy experience higher highs and lower lows. Purdue makes piles of cash. FDA’s relationships with the industry it regulates remain cozy, like a hostage with sympathetic feelings toward his captor.

The ASSA session “Nobels on Where Is the World Economy Headed?” featured Deaton and fellow laureates Joseph Stiglitz, Roger Myerson, Edmund Phelps, and Robert J. Shiller. The panel discussion evolved to focus on the role of rising economic inequality and the impact of official institutions in abetting same.

The Purdue-OxyContin situation is a prime example of government-suborned fraud:

In his remarks, Deaton referred to a 2015 study that he and his wife, Princeton professor Anne Case, published in 2015. In the paper, Deaton and Case analyzed health and mortality records and showed a troubling rise in the death rates of middle-aged white Americans. This rise in mortality was unique to white non-Hispanic Americans, they concluded, and was driven primarily by an epidemic of suicides and diseases related to substance abuse among poorly educated whites, particularly heroin and prescription opioids such as oxycodone.

“There are around 200,000 people who have died from the opioid epidemic, were victims of iatrogenic medicine and disease caused by the medical profession, or from drugs that should not have been prescribed for chronic pain but were pushed by pharmaceutical companies, whose owners have become enormously rich from these opioids,” said Deaton, who later advocated for a single-payer healthcare system in the U.S., saying: “I am a great believer in the market, but I think we need a single-payer healthcare system. I just don’t see any other sensible way to address it in this country.”

We’ve discussed “regulatory capture” with regard to the financial industry, most recently in the November 10, 2016, issue.

The Wall Street-Washington, D.C., wormhole has, indeed, contributed to rising inequality and a massive upward transfer of wealth during the “recovery” from the Global Financial Crisis/Great Recession.

People who didn’t have much else in the way of assets lost their homes. That’s certainly not a circumstance to take lightly.

But “regulatory capture” in the Oxy context is literally deadly, with nearly 200,000 lives lost.

Perhaps we need not separate the two.


Old Things New

Clare Hollingworth is the British war correspondent who broke the news that Germany had amassed its military might on the Polish border in the late summer of 1939 and also brought first word that Hitler’s tanks had rolled into that benighted country.

She reported on World War II from Turkey, Greece, and Cairo, and then Palestine, Iraq, and Persia. British Gen. Bernard Montgomery was no fan of a woman reporter at the front, so Hollingworth hitched her wagon to Gen. Dwight Eisenhower.

She rubbed elbows with the young man who became the shah of Iran. She later got the goods on infamous spy Kim Philby, identifying him as “the third man,” but her editor at The Guardian wouldn’t run the story.

She also reported on the revolution in Algiers against French imperialism as well as the civil war in Vietnam. She was The Telegraph’s first correspondent in Beijing.

An extraordinary life, lived extraordinarily well, Clare Hollingworth passed away this week, aged 105.

Smart Investing,

David Dittman
Editorial Director, Wall Street Daily

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