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Purdue Pharma And The Beginning Of The Opioid Crisis26:01

OxyContin, shown in this file photo, is made by Purdue Pharma. (Toby Talbot/AP)
OxyContin, shown in this file photo, is made by Purdue Pharma. (Toby Talbot/AP)
This article is more than 2 years old.

In 2007, executives at Purdue Pharma, makers of the powerful painkiller Oxycontin, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges that they'd "misbranded" the powerful opioid, and misrepresented its potential for abuse and addiction.

Purdue paid a $634 million fine. The settlement was heralded as a major victory by the federal government at the time.

But a stunning recent report from the New York Times shows that prosecutors had gathered a mountain of evidence that Purdue execs knew about "significant" abuse of Oxycontin in the first years after the drug was approved by the FDA. The prosecutors wanted to go further. They wanted charge top Purdue Pharma executives with felonies, including "conspiracy to defraud the United States" — that could have sent the executives to prison if convicted.

But those efforts came to a grinding halt after Purdue's legal team held a previously unknown meeting with political appointees in the Justice Department, after which, the government backed down.


Barry Meier, former reporter for the New York Times. Author of "Pain Killer: An Empire of Deceit and the Origin of America’s Opioid Epidemic," whose second edition just came out in May. He tweets @BarryMeier.

This segment aired on June 11, 2018.


Meghna Chakrabarti Twitter Host, On Point
Meghna Chakrabarti is the host of On Point.


Kassandra Sundt Twitter Producer/Reporter
Kassandra Sundt was a Radio Boston producer and reporter at WBUR. She started at the station as a Here & Now intern in 2010.


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