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
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
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.