Early OxyContin Marketing Linked to Long-Term Spread Of Infectious Diseases Associated With Injection Drug Use

Article Summary by Amanda Clarke, MPH – Horizon Services Board Secretary. Director of Programs, California Healthcare Safety Net Institute

Article Summary by Amanda Clarke, MPH – Horizon Services Board Secretary Director of Programs, California Healthcare Safety Net Institute

California is 25 years into the opioid epidemic and the end is nowhere in sight. Last year alone, 6,959 Californians died from an opioid overdose[1] and this past August, San Francisco saw its highest number of opioid-related overdose deaths since the city started tracking the fatalities in early 2020.[2] As policymakers and local communities seek solutions, it’s helpful to look back and understand how we arrived here.

Early OxyContin Marketing - Academic Article
Download the Health Affairs article summarized by Amanda Clarke

Over the course of the epidemic, researchers have shown a clear connection between the marketing of the opioid analgesic OxyContin and increases in fatal overdoses. Beginning in 1996, Purdue Pharma launched an aggressive marketing campaign for OxyContin, downplaying the addictive nature of the drug and using physician data to target doctors who were more likely to prescribe opioids for pain relief. Then, in 2010, States introduced prescription drug monitoring programs and OxyContin was reformulated so that the pills could not so easily be crushed and ingested through snorting or injection. The reformulation pushed people to substitute heroin for OxyContin, leading to a dramatic increase in heroin use the same year and a surge in infectious diseases related to injection drug use.

To better understand the connection between early OxyContin marketing and long-term injection drug use, researchers evaluated this complicated relationship. They examined two key events that impacted the market supply of OxyContin: differences in exposure to Purdue Pharma marketing campaigns and the supply shock resulting from the 2010 reformulation. The study found that greater exposure to OxyContin marketing as far back as 1996 significantly increased viral and bacterial complications of injection drug use and illicit opioid-related overdose deaths 25 years later.

The study results are timely as California participates in multiple national lawsuits against manufacturers, distributors, and other entities responsible for spreading the opioid epidemic. It is estimated that California will receive $2.05 billion through 2038 from an initial settlement. Five new settlements are pending and could bring in an additional $1.83 billion for California to fund life-saving opioid prevention and treatment programs, such as those offered by Horizon Services.[3]


[1] https://skylab.cdph.ca.gov/ODdash/?tab=Home

[2] https://www.sfchronicle.com/sf/article/san-francisco-drug-overdose-death-numbers-rising-18373852.php

[3] https://www.dhcs.ca.gov/provgovpart/Pages/California-Opioid-Settlements.aspx