Abbott’s deal with Purdue shielded it from opioid litigation


A look at marketing tactics used by Abbott Laboratories as part of a partnership with Purdue Pharmaceuticals to push OxyContin offers new insight into the company’s business practices and the clause that allowed it to escape legal scrutiny.

New court documents obtained by STAT show how the Abbott sales team used free meals—and in one case, a box of doughnuts for a doctor with a weakness for junk food—to persuade physicians to prescribe OxyContin to more patients. Sales reps were told to tone down the addiction risks of the drug and emphasize purported benefits of OxyContin despite little evidence to support the claims.  

According to STAT, Abbott was fulfilling a sales agreement made with Purdue, the manufacturer of OxyContin. Abbott used at least 300 members its formidable sales staff to push the drug while receiving a portion of the profits in return. But a clause in their contract indemnified Abbott of any legal costs. When Purdue paid more than $634 million to settle claims that it had fraudulently marketed OxyContin by indicating it was less addictive than other painkillers, the clause allowed Abbott to dodge legal ramifications and public scrutiny.

Earlier this month FierceHealthPayer: Antifraud reported that state attorneys general are seeking new ways to prosecute Purdue following “buyer’s remorse” over a $19.5 million settlement between the company and 27 attorneys general in 2007. Several states are bringing legal action against Purdue and other manufacturers, which could pave the way for a new round of multi-million dollar settlements.  

Earlier this year the Office of Inspector General reported that spending on commonly abused opioids within Medicare Part D had reached $4.1 billion, a 165 percent increase since 2006.