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The marketing practices that worsened America’s opioid epidemic are making their way overseas

  • Annabelle Timsit
By Annabelle Timsit

Geopolitics reporter

Lille, FrancePublished Last updated on This article is more than 2 years old.

In the last decade, a spate of lawsuits—some settled, many ongoing—have shed light on the role that pharmaceutical companies have played in the US opioid epidemic, a public health emergency which claims the lives of 130 Americans every day. The most notable, Purdue Pharma, the Sackler-family owned maker of OxyContin, has been found guilty of downplaying the risks and overplaying the effectiveness of opioids, contributing to an epidemic of overprescription and diversion. 

Purdue pled guilty (pdf) to “misbranding” OxyContin “with the intent to defraud or mislead.” But the company also used legal marketing practices to boost opioid sales, despite its knowledge of the risks associated with the drug. Some of these practices are at the center of a colossal multidistrict litigation against opioid makers and distributors that is currently underway in an Ohio court.

Now, a Quartz investigation for the documentary, How to Sell Drugs (Legally), has found that Mundipharma, an international network of companies also owned by the Sacklers, deployed similar marketing techniques to sell opioids overseas. 

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