Nearly 400,000 people died from an opioid overdose between 1999 and 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the number of overdose deaths tied to opioids was six times higher in 2017 than it was eight years prior. An average of 130 Americans died every day of an opioid overdose in 2017, according to CDC data.
Much of the blame has been placed on pharmaceutical giants for aggressive marketing of prescription opioids and the FDA for lack of regulation. And certain companies made big money off the opioid boom — perhaps most notably OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma.
‘The prescription blizzard will be so deep, dense, and white…’
Purchased by Dr. Raymond Sackler and his brother Mortimer Sackler in 1952, the company that would become Purdue Pharma started as a NYC-based pharmaceutical firm and evolved into a family-owned behemoth over the next few decades. The company’s big break came in 1995 when the FDA approved its drug OxyContin, first formulation of oxycodone with dosing every 12 hours instead of every 4 to 6 hours.
Dr. Richard Sackler, Raymond’s son and a Purdue Pharma board member, told a 1996 OxyContin launch party to “imagine a series of natural disasters: an earthquake, a volcanic eruption, a hurricane, and a blizzard,” according to the New York State Attorney’s lawsuit against Purdue Pharma.
“He said: ‘the launch of OxyContin Tablets will be followed by a blizzard of prescriptions that will bury the competition. The prescription blizzard will be so deep, dense, and white…’”
Over the next two decades, that prescription blizzard coincided with a growing U.S. opioid epidemic.
“Dr. Sackler used this much-quoted phrase in a speech given at the launch of OxyContin because the airports were closed following the historic blizzard of 1996, and he was a day late to the meeting as a result,” David Bernick, an attorney for the Sackler family, said in a statement to Yahoo Finance, adding: “The enthusiasm of Dr. Sackler’s speech also was totally understandable” given the recent FDA approval of the new drug.
‘Purdue Pharma vigorously denies the allegations’
In March, Purdue Pharma reached a $270 million settlement with the state of Oklahoma — and that was just the beginning.