Same Big Pharma Empire Behind Opioid Epidemic Now Profiting From Overdose Cure
By Elias Marat
An affiliate of the U.S.-based pharmaceutical company that brought us OxyContin, the blockbuster painkiller blamed for propelling opiate addiction to epidemic proportions, is now seeking to cash in by selling the cure to overdosing on the same drug.
While Purdue Pharma, the major pharma firm owned by the notorious Sackler family, is engulfed in a tidal wave of negative public opinion and lawsuits across the United States, its overseas affiliate Mundipharma has quietly expanded across the globe in a bid to monopolize the market for treating opioid overdoses, the Associated Press reports.
Mundipharma’s flagship product is a naloxone nasal spray called Nyxoid, which recently received approval from regulators in Europe, Australa, and New Zealand. The company’s European division has attempted to present the antidote as an important option for combating heroin overdoses, which remains a leading cause of overdose deaths across European countries.
With a cost of over $50 per dose in some European countries, the price of Nyxoid is far more expensive than heroin as well as injectable forms of naxalone. Similar nasal sprays have cost over $100 in the U.S., where opioid overdoses have claimed the lives of well over 400,000 people—a death toll that continues to climb as the opioid epidemic continues unabated.
Mundipharma has still been aggressively promoting the antidote at medical conferences. AP reports that at one conference, the company advertised the product with the slogan: “Be prepared. Get naloxone. Save a life.”
Yet critics argue that the company that aggressively promoted OxyContin – fanning the deadly opioid addiction wave within the United States that eventually went worldwide – should be providing much cheaper, if not free, naloxone products.
Dr. Andrew Kolodny, a prominent critic of Purdue, told AP:
You’re in the business of selling medicine that causes addiction and overdoses, and now you’re in the business of selling medicine that treats addiction and overdoses? That’s pretty clever, isn’t it?
Lawsuits have also revealed how the massive complex of pharmaceutical firms owned by the Sackler family have sought to cash in on addiction treatments even while they pulled out all the stops in ensuring the proliferation of OxyContin. The company has denied that it has tried to profit from opioids and addiction treatment simultaneously.
However, in one internal document from Purdue uncovered in a Massachusetts lawsuit, an illustration showed a blue funnel with the top end labeled “pain treatment”—a reference to the opioids—and the bottom labeled “opioid addiction treatment.” The same presentation also said that the company had an opportunity to become an “end-to-end provider,” effectively manufacturing both the disease of widespread painkiller abuse and its cure.
According to the complaint, Purdue staff wrote:
It is an attractive market … Large unmet need for vulnerable, underserved and stigmatized patient population suffering from substance abuse, dependence and addiction.
Lawyers for the Sackler family have sought to cast blame for the secret plan, known as Project Tango, on a third-party equity fund. Yet Mundipharma’s efforts to promote naloxone bear a stunning resemblance to Purdue’s envisioned role as an “end-to-end provider.”
Stephen Wood, a fellow at Harvard Medical School Center for Bioethics who has researched how prices of naloxone products in the U.S. have escalated as the addiction crisis swelled, believes that the Sackler empire should make such antidotes widely available as a simple matter of ethics. He said:
If they were trying to find a solution, they would just distribute naloxone for free.
They could use all that money they made off opioids to help support a program where they are giving away this life-saving medication.