Oxycodone was developed in Germany in the year 1916. It is the opioid that Oxycontin is derived from. Oxycodone was developed to be a better alternative to other opioids such as heroin or morphine. Prior to developing Oxycodone, people were becoming fast addicted to heroin and morphine, abusing them, and were suffering from serious effects of the abuse.
Oxycodone reached the United States in the 1939. However, in 1996, a Connecticut pharmaceutical company called Purdue Pharma introduced Oxycontin. Marketed as a new painkiller, the active ingredient in the drug was no different from that of Oxycodone which had been in the market for a few decades by then. What was different, however, was the manner in which the active ingredient was delivered by the drug.
Oxycontin was touted as the appropriate treatment of moderate to severe non-cancer pain. The brands of Oxycodone which were available in the market during those times had a couple of drawbacks: (1) they were available only in low doses which necessitated the patients to take many pills to experience relief; most painkillers that contained morphine staved off pain only for a period of 2 to 3 hours; and (2) they were found in combination with other drugs such as aspirin and acetaminophen, which could cause dangerous side effects when taken in larger doses.
When Oxycontin was released in the market in 1996, it clearly overcame these two drawbacks. It came in larger doses with a timed-release coating that delivered the drug over a 12-hour period and required an individual patient to take only two pills a day. Oxycontin contained no other active ingredients which could cause side effects.
Oxycontin thus became an overnight success for Purdue Pharma and raked in the dollars for them. In 1996 legal sales of Oxycontin was well over $40 million. By 2000, Purdue Pharma earned over a billion dollars through the sales of Oxycontin. By then it was the number one narcotic pain relief pill. Most of the pills sold were purportedly used by legitimate patients.
The release of Oxycontin in 1996 coincided with a national movement that had the doctors ready to treat pain more aggressively. The manufacturers initially thought that Oxycontin would not prove attractive to addicts due to the time release coating on the tablet. However, people devised ways to crush the tablet and snort or inject the contents. Soon people were sharing prescriptions and an addict could get a prescription for an opioid drug from more than one doctor. All this paved the way for big-time abuse of Oxycontin.
Oxycontin was marketed aggressively among the small-town doctors who were inexperienced in treating chronic pain with powerful opioid drugs. Many of them were not able to detect abuse or addiction when it developed. By the year 2003, more than 50% of all the Oxycontin prescriptions in the United States was being written by rural or primary care doctors. In due course it followed that, Oxycontin, instead of being a chronic pain reliever, had tremendous potential for abuse and addiction.
The prominently affected areas were Kentucky, Virginia, Maine, and Ohio. Abuse and addiction symptoms were prevalent among recreational drug users, teenagers, and patients suffering from pain. Some possible contributing factors to the high amount of abuse was cited as absence of a warning against crushing the tablet that may have alerted potential abusers and the product label on the drug which suggested that Oxycontin had lower abuse potential.
In the wake of rising addiction and overdosing problems with Oxycontin, Purdue Pharma responded by forming a response team to study the abuse. They elected to discontinue marketing the 160 mg Oxycontin tablet in 2001. The FDA had requested the company additional information on the abuse and the prescribing patterns of Oxycontin.
In the year 2007, several lawsuits filed against Purdue Pharma turned the public glare to the company. Purdue Pharma paid several fines totaling $600 million for misleading and aggressive marketing practices. Three officers of the company pleaded guilty for misleading the public about the safety of the drug.
Purdue Pharma also donated money to communities and states heavily afflicted by opioid addiction. The makers of Oxycontin since announced that the drug would be reformulated to make it difficult for the addicts to snort or inject it. This new preparation was released in 2010 and it contains a substance that turns the pill into a gluey resin. This is difficult to snort or inject and is not popular with the addicts.