Rhodes Technologies Inc. has been granted a patent for a new drug that could help treat opioid addiction. This sounds like good news at first — like someone’s actually doing something to fight the epidemic that’s destroying lives across the country at an alarming rate. It sounds like good news, until you realize that Rhodes Technologies Inc. is a subsidiary of Purdue Pharma, the same company that many hold responsible for starting the opioid epidemic in the first place because they flooded the market with OxyContin and allegedly suppressed reports of the drug’s addictive properties for years.
Purdue Pharma is currently in the midst of several lawsuits accusing them of deceptively marketing OxyContin as non-addictive, and ignoring indications that it was being widely abused, allowing the epidemic to spread to its current dire levels.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 115 people die every day in the United States after overdosing on opioids like OxyContin, heroin and fentanyl — and about 80 percent of people who use heroin started out by misusing prescription pain killers.
According to a new report from the Financial Times, Purdue filed a patent earlier this year for a fast-acting form of buprenorphine, also known as Suboxone, a mild opiate that helps control cravings for stronger drugs. The drug was previously available in tablet form, but the new patent is for a “wafer” form that would dissolve instantly and work faster. Dr. Richard Sackler — part of the Sackler family that controls Purdue and became one of the country’s richest families in part thanks to the sale of OxyContin — was listed on the patent as an inventor for this new product.
This is the latest move in Purdue’s pivot to treating opioid addiction, rather than enabling it. Last year, the company donated $850,000 and partnered with the National Sheriffs’ Association to increase access to the life-saving drug Naloxone, which can reverse an overdose in progress. They’ve joined the Prescription Drug Safety Network to help educate people about prescription drug misuse, and claim to be rolling back their promotional efforts around OxyContin.
The naloxone project is great, and considering the billions the Sackler family has made off of extremely addictive medication, they absolutely should be redistributing some of those profits to fix the damage they’ve done. Or, as they put it in their own company literature, “How could [they] not help fight the prescription and illicit opioid abuse crisis?” The idea of Purdue and the Sacklers swooping in with the cure for an epidemic they have profited from, with a new product that will make them even richer, however, feels like the darkest form of capitalist absurdity — and like maybe it’s time to make a corporate version of the Son of Sam laws, which prohibit murderers from profiting from their crimes.
When asked to comment on the moral implications of the company profiting off of a cure for an epidemic they helped create, a spokesperson for Purdue Pharma pointed out that the company has not taken steps to bring the product through FDA approval to the market, so this is still a hypothetical conversation, and made a corporate double-speak distinction between the idea that Purdue and Sackler “would” profit from the drug and the idea that they “could,” in theory, profit from it.
We’ll have to wait and see, then, just how high up on the Forbes list the Sacklers manage to climb if and when they do bring their new form of buprenorphine to the market, and sell disease with one hand and a cure with the other.