Settlement amount: $634 million
Year of settlement: 2007
Drugs involved: The painkiller Oxycontin (time-released oxycodone)
Criminal charges filed? Yes
When Oxycontin was approved as a new opioid painkiller in 1995 and promoted with the biggest sales campaign ever for such a drug, its maker, Purdue Pharma, made exaggerated claims that it was less addictive and less likely to cause withdrawal symptoms than other opioid medications like morphine. We all know what happened next.
Although long-acting drugs like Oxycontin are generally less addictive than shorter-lasting ones like heroin, drug users rapidly figured out how to defeat Oxycontin’s anti-addiction time-release mechanism — and the media helped spread the news. Once that happened, Purdue Pharma’s claims about reduced addiction risk were moot, yet the company persisted with them. Purdue was charged with using misleading sales tactics, minimizing the risks of the drug and promoting it to treat types of pain for which it had not been appropriately studied.