KSJ Tracker September 10, 2012

What happened to the poster children for OxyContin?

In the 1990s, Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, put out a promotional video featuring seven chronic pain sufferers, according to John Fauber and Ellen Gabler at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. They wondered what had happened to these people, who talked on the video about how much OxyContin was helping them.

Here's what the reporters found:

Two of the seven patients were active opioid abusers when they died. A third became addicted, suffered greatly, and quit after realizing she was headed for an overdose. Three patients still say the drug helped them cope with their pain and improved their quality of life. A seventh patient declined to answer questions.

Sales of OxyContin, they report, have reached $3 billion a year, making it the best selling prescription pain pill in the U.S. And yet "rigorous clinical trials still have not been done to measure the long-term safety and effectiveness of opioids for various kinds of chronic pain," they write.

The story is part of a series that the Journal Sentinel is doing in collaboration with MedPage Today. It's a commendable example of reporters looking back at claims after those claims have been mostly forgotten, to see whether current evidence suggests they were reasonable claims, or not.

And Fauber and Gabler have done their own video with the "poster children," which you can see here.

-Paul Raeburn


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