OxyContin goes on offensive to reverse 'Hillbilly Heroin' image

STAMFORD, CT: Purdue Pharma has been dealing with a media maelstrom

ever since The New York Times ran a front page story in March asserting

that its OxyContin pain medication for cancer patients was spawning drug

addicts, causing pharmacy robberies and was responsible for a number of

drug overdoses.

OxyContin - colloquially called "Hillbilly Heroin" - creates a high

similar to heroin when inhaled or injected.

The story has since snowballed and had a major resurgence this past


Coverage has included items on CBS Evening News, Good Morning America

and in USA Today.

"It became a classic incident of a good drug getting a bad rap," said

Robin Hogen, executive director of PR for Purdue. "The way the media was

presenting the story was, 'Oxy-Contin is coming to your neighborhood:

bar the windows and hide your daughters.'"

To deal with the current crisis, Purdue Pharma enlisted agencies in nine

states to help distribute a 10-point initiative. Agencies include

Charles Ryan in West Virginia, Dan Pinger & Associates in Ohio, Culari

Communications in Pennsylvania and Fleishman-Hillard in Florida.

"We hired small PR shops to try and snuff the problem out at the

source," said Hogen. "Their jobs are to work with reporters, patients

and physicians and change the police blotter-style coverage of the


Parts of the 10-point plan include offering tamper-resistant

prescription pads to doctors, drug prevention and education programs for

teens, and a series of PSAs in the flashpoint West Virginia cities of

Charleston, Gilbert and Huntington.

Other steps include brochures listing do and don't tips for physicians,

such as spelling out the prescribed amount so it is more difficult to

forge a prescription, and hints on how to tell if patients are faking

their injuries.

Purdue is also working with the Attorney General to link all pharmacies

so that if a person tries to collect three or more prescriptions of

OxyContin in the same day, the prescribing computer will instruct the

pharmacist to alert his or her local law enforcement officer.

"We're waiting for that moment when the press realizes that this is a

story that they've been getting wrong," said Hogen.

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