Newsflash: OxyContin Is Apparently Addictive

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Purdue Pharma L.P., the maker of OxyContin, and three of its executives were ordered Friday to pay a $634.5 million fine for misleading the public about the painkiller's risk of addiction.

U.S. District Judge James Jones levied the fine on Purdue, its top lawyer, and former president, and former chief medical officer after a hearing that lasted about three-and-a-half hours. The hearing included statements by numerous people who said their lives were changed forever by addiction to OxyContin, a trade name for a long-acting form of the painkiller oxycodone.

Designed to be swallowed whole and digested over 12 hours, the pills can produce a heroin-like high if crushed and then swallowed, snorted, or injected.

From 1996 to 2001, the number of oxycodone-related deaths nationwide increased fivefold while the annual number of OxyContin prescriptions increased nearly 20-fold, according to a report by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. In 2002, the DEA said the drug caused 146 deaths and contributed to another 318.

Purdue, its top lawyer, and former president, and former chief medical officer pleaded guilty in May to claiming to doctors that OxyContin was less addictive and less subject to abuse than other pain medications. The sentencing Friday ends the national case.

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