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Purdue Pharma or Purdue Karma? Bankruptcy after Bloodshed

Updated: Feb 16, 2023

Q: What do you get when you mix for-profit healthcare with legalized heroin slinging?

A: Purdue Pharma and a lot of dead citizens

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Purdue Pharma L.P. is a private, American pharmaceutical company that has come under fire for its marketing and distribution of its drug, Oxycontin. In 2007, it paid $634.5 million in fines, the largest of such fines paid by a pharmaceutical firm, for misleading regulators about the addictiveness of its drug. After continued involvement in lawsuits regarding the opioid epidemic, Purdue filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in September of 2019. Most recently, it has announced its rebranding as Knoa Pharma, a public benefit corporation, after it "knowingly and intentionally conspired and agreed with others to aid and abet without a legitimate medical purpose." Their plan upon dissolving is to produce life-saving overdose rescue drugs and medically assisted treatment medications to communities dealing with the opioid crisis.


In New York in 1892, two medical doctors named John Purdue Gray and George Frederick Bingham founded the pharmaceutical company as "Purdue Frederick Company." The company was eventually bought by brothers Raymond and Mortimer Sackler in 1952, spurring openings of additional offices in neighboring states: New Jersey and Connecticut. Now known as Purdue Pharma, the company began focusing on pain management medication in the early 90's, producing drugs such as hydromorphone, oxycodone, fentanyl, codeine, and hydrocodone. Its success resulted in the development of its sister companies, Mundipharma and Napp Pharmaceuticals, which distribute opioids globally.

Purdue began its production of Oxycontin, a lab-produced opiate for pain management chemically similar to heroin, in 1996. The Food and Drug Administration approved its distribution in 1995 after the American Pain Society introduced pain as the fifth vital sign, changing the American physician's approach to healthcare indefinitely. Oxycontin was marketed as a powerful pain-reducing drug and it was a huge hit for patients and doctors alike. According to The LA Times, Purdue reaped $31 billion in revenue from the sale of Oxycontin alone.

Downfall of us all

America has had a heroin problem for decades, but the legal, and sometimes disproportionate distribution of opioids like Oxycontin changed the game. Despite the increasing number of studies conducted which proved the dangerous addictive tendencies of Oxycontin, the Sackler family continued business as usual. Even after their guilty plea in 2007, the American public sought to take advantage of the situation before the Sackler family decided to make things right. Under-the-counter distribution was an easy way to make money in an economic decline, and there was no system in place to prevent patients from doctor-shopping to sell or abuse the drug. It became a popular drug, similar to Xanax, at parties and clubs, but it mostly devastated marginalized, blue-collar communities. In fact, the states involved in Oxycontin-related lawsuits are some of the most responsible for hard labor and production in America: Connecticut (2001), West Virginia (2004), Kentucky (2007), The District of Columbia (2017), Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Tennessee, Texas (2018), Massachusetts, and Oklahoma (2019).

In 2016, individual families affected by the drug crisis began seeking justice from the company. Protests have erupted over the last few years as policing has increased alongside the rate of overdose, and the need for recovery institutions has grown disproportionate to our resources. Organizations such as PAIN have sparked controversy in the art industry for the Sackler's dirty-money philanthropy in museums such as the MET and the V&A. (Read the article here)

Where responsibility lies

Purdue's initiative to dissolve and rebrand remains controversial. Organizers of PAIN warn against it. While the initial production of the drug may've been innocent, there is an arguable case of carelessness that took place on behalf of Purdue and its trustees.

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