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Purdue Pharma, Execs Plead Guilty

The manufacturer of OxyContin, Purdue Pharma, and a few of its executives were allowed to plead guilty in federal court to misleading the public about the drug and were given hefty fines. The Associated Press reported on May 11, 2007 ("OxyContin Maker, Execs Fined $634.5M") that "Purdue Pharma L.P., its president, top lawyer and former chief medical officer will pay $634.5 million in fines for claiming the drug was less addictive and less subject to abuse than other pain medications, U.S. Attorney John Brownlee said. The plea agreement settled a national case and came two days after the Stamford, Conn.-based company agreed to pay $19.5 million to 26 states and the District of Columbia to settle complaints that it encouraged physicians to overprescribe OxyContin. 'With its OxyContin, Purdue unleashed a highly abusable, addictive, and potentially dangerous drug on an unsuspecting and unknowing public,' Brownlee said. 'For these misrepresentations and crimes, Purdue and its executives have been brought to justice.'"

According to AP, "The U.S. attorney said the guilty pleas were entered Thursday morning in U.S. District Court in Abingdon, about 135 miles southwest of Roanoke. In an unusual move, Brownlee said, company chief executive officer Michael Friedman, general counsel Howard Udell and former chief medical officer Paul Goldenheim each pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of misbranding the drug. Of the total fine, $34.5 million was levied on those three. The fines will be distributed to state and federal law enforcement agencies, the federal government, federal and state Medicaid programs, a Virginia prescription monitoring program and individuals who had sued the company. About $5 million will go toward a six-year company program to monitor compliance with the agreement."

The AP noted that "Investigators from a number of state and federal agencies worked together on an investigation of Purdue Pharma and began to subpoena company records in 2002, Brownlee said. 'From these millions of records, they picked out probably 300 to 500 documents and pieced together a case,' he said. The Food and Drug Administration was part of the investigation. A spokesman for Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said the agency had not acted on a citizen petition Blumenthal's office filed more than three years ago. The petition raised concerns about misbranding and called for stronger warnings and fuller disclosure about OxyContin's dangers."

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