A lawsuit filed on behalf of Tennessee taxpayers against Oxycontin-maker Purdue Pharma reveals how they fueled the opioid epidemic to snare profits.
Michael Schwab/USA TODAY NEWTWORK – TENNESSEE
The more Oxycontin a Purdue Pharma staffer pushed into the hands of addicts, the more money went in his pocket, court records show.
The staffer is only identified in a recently unsealed lawsuit filed in Knox County Circuit Court on behalf of Tennessee taxpayers against Purdue as “sales representative 11.”
The Tennessee Attorney General’s office opted to highlight that sales representative’s career path at Purdue in the lawsuit as proof the Oxycontin maker fostered and exploited the deadly opioid epidemic plaguing the state and the nation.
Purdue Pharma lawsuit: OxyContin maker’s records reveal deceit in deal with attorneys general, Justice Department
In an effort to combat the growing epidemic of prescription drug and heroin abuse, the FBI and DEA have released “Chasing the Dragon: The Life of an Opiate Addict,” a documentary aimed at educating students and young adults about addiction.
The lawsuit, using Purdue’s internal records, alleges the drug maker rewarded its sales staffers for Oxycontin sales, encouraged them to target pill-mill operators to increase their bonuses under the “Topper’s Club” program created by Purdue executives and also boosted their bonuses for handing out “savings cards” to medical providers for cash-paying Oxycontin addicts and street dealers.
“Sales Representative 11’s career with Purdue demonstrates this perverse incentive,” the lawsuit stated.
Sales Representative 11 was a member of the Topper’s club six years running as he pushed pill-mill operators in Springfield, Brentwood and Nashville – among others. In 2010, he earned more in bonuses than salary. His base pay was $110,743 that year. His bonus tally was $128,592 that year.
“Sales Representative 11 called on a large number of highly problematic providers who ended up in cease calling status, criminally indicted and/or had adverse licensure action taken against them … as well as problematic pain clinics and pharmacies,” the lawsuit stated.
Among his customers was Dr. Visuvalingam Vilvarajah, a Nashville doctor and pill-mill operator in Tennessee and Kentucky who killed his wife and mother-in-law but was allowed to continue practicing medicine anyway.
Dr. Visuvalingam Vilvarajah: Doctor in drug case regained license after murders
Sales Representative 11 was so successful at pushing Oxycontin that Purdue, in 2014, made him a member of their marketing team, according to the lawsuit.
He also ranked second in the nation among Purdue sales staffers “for redemptions of Oxycontin savings cards by patients” at Tennessee clinics the Oxycontin maker had evidence were pill mills, the lawsuit stated.
Other Purdue sales representatives who made sales calls involving Sales Representative 11’s medical customers filed “reports of concern” with Purdue executives, alleging his customers were running pill mills, the lawsuit stated.
“Yet Sales Representative 11, despite calling on some of these providers for years and having access to other sales representatives’ call notes for these providers, almost never reported them to Purdue,” the lawsuit stated.
“Purdue never disciplined Sales Representative 11 for failing to report abuse and diversion, despite ample evidence of it. Instead, they rewarded his blind eye.”
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