Secret trove reveals bold ‘crusade’ to make OxyContin a blockbuster
Secret trove reveals bold ‘crusade’ to make OxyContin a blockbuster

Secret trove reveals bold ‘crusade’ to make OxyContin a blockbuster

WELCH, W.Va. — The pharmaceutical sales representatives from health care giant Abbott Laboratories had a problem. No matter what they tried, they couldn’t get the attention of an orthopedic surgeon to convince him to prescribe the potent painkiller OxyContin.

August 15, 2016


Week after week, they dropped by his office, sometimes bringing lunch for the doctor and his staff. Still, he had little time for them.

That is, until the staff let them in on a secret: “We were told by his nurses and office staff that the best way to capture his attention and develop our relationship was through junk food,” the sales reps wrote in an internal memo.

The next week, one of the Abbott representatives showed up with a sheet cake box filled with doughnuts and snack cakes arranged to spell out the word “OxyContin.” The gambit worked. The surgeon listened to the sales talk, and every week after that, the Abbott sales personnel visited the doctor to ask him to switch at least three patients to OxyContin from other painkillers.

The doughnut ploy, highlighted in a trove of internal documents obtained by STAT, shows the lengths to which Abbott went to hook in doctors and make OxyContin a billion-dollar blockbuster. The sales force bought takeout dinners for doctors and met them at bookstores to pay for their purchases. In memos, the sales team referred to the marketing of the drug as a “crusade,” and their boss called himself the “King of Pain.”

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