- An FDA director who oversaw the approval of OxyContin got a $400K gig at Purdue Pharma a year later.
- A new book by Patrick Radden Keefe reported on these claims and on the billionaire Sackler family.
- A Sackler family lawyer told Insider Keefe refused to meet with them during his reporting process.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
The US regulator who oversaw the approval of the highly-addictive opioid OxyContin got a six-figure gig at the drug’s manufacturer a year later, a new book claims.
Curtis Wright, once a director at the US Food and Drug Administration who oversaw evaluation for pain medication, got a position with a first-year compensation package of $400,000 at Purdue Pharma a year after he led the approval of OxyContin, according to the book “Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty” by Patrick Radden Keefe.
Purdue Pharma’s sale of OxyContin, a formulation of the narcotic oxycodone that was said to slow down the release of the strong painkiller when taken as prescribed, has been associated with the rise of the opioid crisis, according to a trillion-dollar lawsuit filed by nearly all US states.
OxyContin was the “most prescribed brand name narcotic medication” for treating moderate to severe pain by 2001, according to a report by the US Government Accountability Office. Deaths from prescription opioid overdose quadrupled between 1999 to 2019, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recorded 247,000 deaths from prescription opioid overdose over the last two decades.
Keefe’s book explores the lives of the billionaire Sackler family who founded Purdue Pharma and profited off of the sale of OxyContin. Forbes estimates the Sackler family’s net worth at $10.8 billion, as of December 2020.
“This author has refused to correct errors in his past reporting and also blatantly violated journalistic ethics by refusing to meet with representatives for the Sackler family during the reporting of his book,” Daniel S. Connolly, an attorney for the Raymond Sackler family, said in a statement to Insider. “Documents being released in Purdue’s bankruptcy now demonstrate that Sackler family members who served on Purdue’s board of directors acted ethically and lawfully.”
The FDA approved OxyContin in December 1995, originally believing the controlled-release formulation of OxyContin would result in “less abuse potential,” according to the agency’s website. The agency amended the label in 2001, giving OxyContin a “black box” warning it adds on drug with the highest possible abuse potential, per the FDA website.
Keefe wrote Wright had confessed in a sworn deposition that he “might” have written the portion of the FDA package insert that said OxyContin was “believed to reduce the abuse liability of the drug.” Keefe added that Wright would instruct Purdue Pharma to mail him documents at his home office, and conducted reviews of clinical study reports regarding the safety of OxyContin with the help of Purdue Pharma employees.
After Wright left the FDA he spent a year at another company before joining Purdue, according to the book.
“That was sufficient as a cooling-off period, apparently, to allay any concerns that Richard Sackler might have had about the appearance of a conflict of interest,” Keefe wrote.
Purdue Pharma did not have additional comment to add. The FDA declined to comment.