Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals doled out lavish perks for top US employees who hit or beat sales goals for prescription opioids and other drugs: six-figure bonuses and a chance to snag a coveted “President’s Club” award, which could mean vacations to Hawaii, the Caribbean or Mexico.
The company placed that same staff in charge of reporting any sales of its painkillers that appeared to be suspicious, including to distributors or pharmacies requesting extreme volumes of its most potent formulas. Asked during a federal court deposition last year whether she believed it was appropriate to put incentive-motivated sales staff in charge of calling out questionable sales, Karen Harper, who oversaw Mallinckrodt’s suspicious order monitoring system, said yes.
In fact, as the nation’s opioid overdose crisis began to explode, not a single order with the company between August 2008 and October 2010 rose from the level of “peculiar” to “suspicious,” the category that would have triggered a report to authorities, according to Harper’s deposition.
The court documents reveal a company culture that allowed Mallinckrodt to become one of the giants of the prescription opioid market at a time when overdoses were claiming tens of thousands of American lives. The company, based in England, announced a tentative $1.6 billion settlement Tuesday with state and local governments in the US If finalized, the deal would end lawsuits nationwide over the company’s role in the epidemic.
Purdue Pharma has been the poster child for the US opioid crisis, mostly because of aggressive marketing of its signature painkiller, OxyContin. Lesser known is the role of generic opioid manufacturers like Mallinckrodt that produced the vast majority of painkillers during the height of the overdose epidemic. While they may not have been sending sales representatives to encourage prescribing like Purdue, they were filling more and more orders for the drugs — so many that Mallinckrodt couldn’t always produce enough to fill them all.
Nationwide distribution data released in a sprawling federal court case and analyzed by The Associated Press shows that Mallinckrodt’s US subsidiary, SpecGX, and another generic drugmaker, Actavis Pharma, produced the vast amount of prescription opioids distributed throughout the country.
From 2006 to 2014, Mallinckrodt’s subsidiary shipped more than 2.2 billion high-potency oxycodone pills, nearly one-third of its total in that time period, according to the data analysis. Actavis was even more prolific, shipping more than 2.4 billion pills.
Another opioid trial is scheduled to begin next month in Central Islip, New York, which has created a renewed push among drugmakers and distributors to settle thousands of opioid-related lawsuits.