||OxyContin touted as virtually nonaddictive, newly released state
By Fred Schulte
Posted March 6 2003
A former OxyContin sales manager says he used misleading
marketing tactics to boost sales, including telling some
the addictive narcotic was "non-habit forming."
William Gergely, Purdue Pharma's district manager for West
and western Pennsylvania for 27 years until he was fired in
made the statements in an August interview with a Florida
General's Office investigator, newly released records show.
"They told us to say
things like it is
Gergely told the
what we were
instructed to do.
not right, but that's
what they told us to
His statement is
among the first to
executives may have
played a role in
directing their sales
force to downplay addiction and safety concerns with the
which has been tied to hundreds of overdose deaths in recent
"We were not aware of, nor have we seen, the record of the
interview of Mr. Gergely by the Florida Attorney General's
said James Heins, the company's director of public affairs.
result, we cannot comment on any statements that he made in
Heins also declined to answer written questions the newspaper
posed about its marketing of OxyContin. He cited "proprietary
information that the company does not disclose for
reasons" and pending lawsuits.
Notes of Gergely's interview are among hundreds of pages of
documents released to the Sun-Sentinel after the newspaper
lawsuit to make them public. Late last month, Florida
General Charlie Crist released seven years of OxyContin
plans, which showed that Purdue Pharma drove sales from $25
million in 1996 to $1.2 billion last year by persuading
prescribe it for ailments ranging from low back pain to
In his interview with the attorney general's office, Gergely
using marketing materials in sales calls to doctors' offices
did not think met U.S. Food and Drug Administration standards
objectivity. He said the company supplied him with the
Gergely is the only person the state talked to on a list of
100 former and current sales employees which Purdue Pharma
turned over to the state in July as part of an investigation
$2 million settlement
Then Attorney General Bob Butterworth ended the inquiry in
November when Purdue Pharma agreed to pay $2.1 million to
the state set up a computer databank to monitor prescription
OxyContin is a brand form of the narcotic oxycodone, a drug
to morphine. Its time-release system allows pain release for
12 hours with a single dose, far longer than competing drugs.
Pain management specialists have praised the drug,
help cancer patients. But abusers have thwarted the
feature by crushing and either injecting or snorting the
unleashes the full dose at once, causing euphoria and
Purdue Pharma spokesman Heins said the company has "very
and strict" procedures that marketers must adhere to in
OxyContin. He said the company "has disciplined and
sales people who violated these standards, but declined to
Gergely, whose sales turf included West Virginia, where abuse
drug became so common it was nicknamed "Hillbilly heroin,"
his statement that he "didn't know of anyone that has been
disciplined or terminated for using unauthorized sales
Two other current or former sales employees interviewed by
Sun-Sentinel corroborated Gergely's account. All three
feverish sales campaign. They said salespeople were regularly
voicemails from the company's Stamford, Conn., headquarters
them to shatter previous records, for which they could count
being among the best-paid sales force in the industry.
Gergely said he earned $238,000 in his final year -- a salary
$85,000 and the rest from bonuses, most of it tied to the
sales of OxyContin.
Gergely, who supervised about 10 sales reps, said he was
April 2000 after a dispute over alleged discrimination
The veteran salesman told state investigators that two top
executives attended a "launch'' sales meeting for OxyContin
which attendees were advised the drug was "non-habit
said Jim Lang, Purdue Pharma vice president for sales and
and Russ Gasdia, national sales manager, were there,
the state investigator's notes.
Gergely also supplied the attorney general's office with a
copy of an
unapproved paper he said he used as part of his sales pitch.
titled "The Role of Opiods in Chronic Pain: A Case for
and was written by Gregory Holmquist, a pharmacist in
Holmquist told the Sun-Sentinel that he has given
OxyContin to a number of groups that accepted grant money
Purdue Pharma, but had no knowledge of his work being used to
"If a sales rep was using this material he would have been
on his own," he said. Gergely said the company encouraged
agents to suggest that OxyContin's time-release feature would
prevent addiction, even though all narcotics cause dependence
`It was deceptive'
"You'd tell the doctor there is a study, but you wouldn't
show it to
him," he said. "I think it was deceptive."
Other "patient education" materials Purdue Pharma turned over
the Florida Attorney General's Office appear to downplay
One is a pamphlet printed by "Partners Against Pain," a group
at least partly by $4 million from Purdue Pharma in the past
years. The pamphlet was written for doctors to hand out to
patients with questions about their use of OxyContin.
Concerns that the drug is addictive are answered with:
"Drug addiction means using a drug to get `high" rather than
relieve pain. You are taking opioid pain medication for
purposes. The medical purposes are clear and the effects are
beneficial, not harmful," the brochure states.
Whether the brochure or other literature passed to patients
doctors complies with FDA regulations is unclear. The FDA
require drug companies to gain approval of marketing
However, it can review sales guides and advertisements and
In January, for instance, the FDA admonished Purdue Pharma
failing to point out "serious, potentially fatal risks" of
OxyContin in advertisements placed in medical journals, and
the ads pulled.
Purdue Pharma records show that in November 2001 the company
took action to discourage its sales staff from profiting off
who illegally or improperly prescribed OxyContin.
That month, the company told its sales force that any
from sales to a doctor who had been arrested or investigated
improper prescribing would be deducted from their bonuses.
Purdue Pharma's marketing of OxyContin, and its plans to
a new narcotic painkiller once the FDA clears it, also face
Last week, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman W.J.
"Billy" Tauzin, R-La, asked the company to turn over by March
wide range of marketing records, including court depositions
salespeople and records describing the sales bonus plan.
The committee also asked for Purdue Pharma's marketing plan
Palladone, a time-release version of the often-abused drug
hydromorphone, also known as Dilaudid.
Drug Enforcement Administration officials have told the FDA
abuse of Palladone could exceed OxyContin. Dilaudid has long
abused in South Florida, mostly because a small number of
have indiscriminately prescribed it to addicts.
Staff Writer Nancy McVicar contributed to this report.