I often use JoTo PR’s newsletter as an outlet to joke around and be clever, but the nation’s opioid crisis is no laughing matter. Prescription opioid overdoses have killed over 200,000 Americans in the last 20 years.1
That’s why today’s first #PRFAIL is so serious. Yet another drug company, the British drug maker Indivior, has been charged with fraud in its false advertisement of opioid product Suboxone as “safer” and “less prone to abuse” than others of its kind.2
Specifically, “safer” than generic versions of the drug, a claim which caused many health providers and insurers to recommend and cover Suboxone rather than the cheaper but equally effective (and equally dangerous) generics. When all was said and done, Medicare, Medicaid, and other insurers spent billions more than was necessary in order to cover and prescribe the falsely advertised “safe” Suboxone.3
The only difference between Suboxone and the generics is that Suboxone is taken as a film dissolved underneath the tongue rather than as a regular tablet. The drug company claimed it was this adaptation that made it safer, but prosecutors are arguing that Indivior actually knew this meant it was more dangerous and could more easily fall into the hands of children.4
To make matters worse, Indivior also developed a program which supposedly connected opioid-dependent patients with doctors who prescribed Suboxone “in high doses and in suspect circumstances”5 (Suboxone is a drug which technically helps to ease opioid withdrawal, but as it contains opioids, it can be abused just like an opioid-based painkiller).
Indivior denies everything. “Key allegations made by the Justice Department are contradicted by the government’s own scientific agencies,” the company says. “We are extremely disappointed in this action… which is wholly unsupported by either the facts or the law.”6
I think Indivior can claim innocence all it wants, but we’ve seen the tactics used by other opioid-pushing drug companies across the board. Just last month, Purdue Pharma settled with the state of Oklahoma for $270 million in regard to its aggressive marketing of opioids – and that’s just one of more than 1,600 lawsuits currently pending against the company.7
These drug companies demonstrate examples of a corporate M.O. that needs to die – make money at all costs, and if you’re pushing harmful product, keep it going and simply look the other way. Now that the s#@! is hitting
the fan, and they’ve embroiled us all in a crisis, they’re finding themselves in deep, deep PR ditches that will likely be impossible to get out of. Purdue Pharma, in fact, is talking about filing for bankruptcy.
Bad actors do eventually meet bad ends.
Which proves that business ethics are the sound basis of any effective PR strategy – it’s one thing to put out the fire from an isolated mistake, but the overwhelming blaze from downright crookedness will more often than not burn down the whole house.
1) Mann, Brian. “Opioid Maker Charged With Fraud In Marketing Drug As Less Prone To Abuse.” NPR, NPR, 10 Apr. 2019, www.npr.org/2019/04/10/711669778/opioid-maker-charged-with-fraud-in-marketing-drug-as-less-prone-to-abuse.
3) Martin, Rachel, and Brian Mann. “Justice Department Accuses Maker Of Suboxone With Fraud, Conspiracy.” NPR, NPR, 10 Apr. 2019, www.npr.org/2019/04/10/711742397/justice-department-accuses-maker-of-suboxone-with-fraud-conspiracy.
4) Mann, Brian. “Opioid Maker Charged With Fraud In Marketing Drug As Less Prone To Abuse.” NPR, NPR, 10 Apr. 2019, www.npr.org/2019/04/10/711669778/opioid-maker-charged-with-fraud-in-marketing-drug-as-less-prone-to-abuse.
7) Bebinger, Martha. “Purdue Pharma Agrees To $270 Million Opioid Settlement With Oklahoma.” NPR, NPR, 26 Mar. 2019, www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2019/03/26/706848006/purdue-pharma-agrees-to-270-million-opioid-settlement-with-oklahoma.