Faced with lawsuits and blame for contributing to the United States' opioid epidemic, OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma announced that it will stop promoting its opioid painkiller drugs to doctors.
The company is slashing its sales force in half to 200, and the remaining representatives will no longer visit doctors to market Purdue's opioid products, the Los Angeles Times reported.
"We have restructured and significantly reduced our commercial operation and will no longer be promoting opioids to prescribers," according to a company statement. "Going forward, questions and requests for information about our opioid products will be handled through direct communications with our medical affairs department."
The announcement was welcomed by Brandeis University researcher Dr. Andrew Kolodny, but, "It's pretty late in the game to have a major impact," he told the Times.
"The genie is already out of the bottle," said Kolodny, executive director and co-founder of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing.
"Millions of Americans are now opioid-addicted because the campaign that Purdue and other opioid manufacturers used to increase prescribing worked well. And as the prescribing went up, it led to a severe epidemic of opioid addiction," Kolodny told the Times.
Purdue faces dozens of lawsuits from U.S. cities that want to hold the company financially responsible for the opioid epidemic.
A Times investigation found that Purdue had significant evidence that its opioid pills were being illegally trafficked but often did not share it with local law enforcement agencies or halt supplies of the drugs.
It's estimated that more than 7 million Americans have abused OxyContin since it became available in the U.S. in 1996, the Times reported.
It's not clear if other opioid painkiller makers will also stop marketing the drugs to doctors, Kolodny noted.
"We would have more success in encouraging cautious prescribing if drug companies stopped promoting aggressive prescribing," he told the Times.
Another questions is whether Purdue will continue marketing opioid painkillers to doctors outside the U.S. through its international arm.