Purdue Pharma, maker of the addictive painkiller Oxycontin is sponsoring a study that will allow patients to log their pain symptoms on iPhones and Apple Watches. Researchers at Purdue believe that this will help doctors morarme clearly understand their patients’ needs and potentially decrease their medication regimens.
Isn’t it ironic?
Purdue Pharma’s aggressive marketing of OxyContin is a large part of why the opioid crisis exists in the first place. Since 1996, Purdue’s role in the U.S.’s addiction and overdose epidemic has been sharply criticized; mainly for its misleading marketing tactics.
Oxycontin was originally branded as a painkiller that would relieve pain for 12 hours, even as independent research, doctors, patients and Purdue’s own staff privately acknowledged that the dose normally wore off well before the 12-hour claim.
Purdue then instructed their sales representatives to pressure doctors to prescribe higher dosages, in keeping with the 12-hour schedule. It was this profit-driven tactic that led to rampant abuse, dependency and harsh withdrawal symptoms for patients that would prevent many from successfully weaning off the medication.
Not buying it
So, the idea that the company is now putting forth efforts to address the opioid crisis is justifiably raising a few eyebrows. Andrew Kolodny, co-director of the Opioid Policy Research Collaborative and Brandeis University said,
I’m just very suspicious that they’re interested in developing a tool that will help people get off of their medicines. When I hear about this, I wonder if it’s all an effort by Purdue to get good [public relations].
Harvard Medical School and Brigham Woman’s Hospital professor, Robert Jamison told Buzzfeed,
I’m sure [Purdue is] looking for some positive press out of this, [so they can] say, ‘We’re trying to make things better.’
But Purdue’s executive director of medical affairs and strategic research, Tracy Mayne says she understands the criticism. She told Buzzfeed,
I know that sounds like, ‘What a crazy thing for a company that produces opioids to do,’ but it comes from that level of commitment to addressing the problem in the U.S.
More than 165,000 Americans have died from prescription painkillers since 1999. This number doesn’t account for overall addictions and illicit drug use that began as opioid abuse.
Yet, the efforts continue
Still, Purdue’s researchers maintain that their investments in health-monitoring technologies aren’t their first forays into addressing the painkiller epidemic. They co-sponsored a prescription-monitoring program in Virginia, which would allow doctors to prescribe painkillers based on patient’s medication history.
They also gave $1M to the National Association Boards of Pharmacy to market prescription-monitoring on a national scale, along with similar projects involving the CDC.
The new study called, ResearchKit consists of a digital program in which iPhones and Apple Watches are given to over 200 patients who are suffering from chronic pain. These patients will have to record their incidences of pain and rate how they are feeling throughout the day.
But the practicality of such devices is still up for debate. Jamison believes,
People will use it for a while, and then they’ll drop off unless they have some sort of sense that ‘this information is very, very valuable and is going to make a difference in my care.
Doctors may also see the readings as a hurdle, since they have to analyze the results on their end.