Ethical Implications of Purdue Pharma Products

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This paper looks into production and usage of opioid medication for pain management and its abuse. United States accounted for 80% of the supply of opioids in the 1990s whereas the remaining 20% was shared amongst the remaining countries in the world. With increased usage of opioid medication, there arose a biggest ethical challenge to Purdue Pharma, a producer of opioid pain management drugs. Abuse of their products was on the rise in the United States and they had to find a balance between profits and ethical marketing. The increased abuse in the US was attributed to the American perceptions as a remedy to all their pains whereas the rest of the world selectively used it for chronic pains. Purdue Pharma has come up with measures to curb abuse including development of abuse-deterrent properties and educating stakeholders on measures to curb abuse of opioids.

Ethical Implication of Purdue Pharmaceutical Products

Established in 1892 as Purdue Fredric and incorporated in 1991, Purdue Pharma is private limited company with interests in production of pharmaceutical products. The company is a major producer of pain management medication with some of its major products being hydrocodone, fentanyl, hydromorphone, codeine and oxycodone. It has called itself ‘pioneer in developing medications for reducing pain, a principal cause for human suffering’. The company has been marred with ethical dilemmas associated with its products and their distribution.

Through its aggressive marketing, oxyctocin accounted for 86% of the total opioids usage globally in 1999 (Cicero et al., 2005). The marketing strategy included wooing doctors to prescribe the products by giving them paid speaking engagements and free trips to pain-management seminars. This saw the sales of the products soar up. Throughout this time, the company knew that the product was being abused. Though, to continue with its good sales, the company never brought the issue to the limelight for fear of losing its revenues. Oxy Contin and MS Contin are two highly abused products of Purdue Pharma. These two products are either abused by chewing, injection of dissolved product, crushing or snorting and this could result in overdose or death to the abuser.

Perception Differences in the United States to other Countries on Usage of Opioid Products

United States is believed to consume approximately 80 percent of the global opioid supply whereas Canada and Western Europe consume an average of 15 percent and the remaining part of the world has access to 5 percent of the opioids supply. These statistics brings forth perceptional differences into the usage and availability of opioid prescriptions. Usage of opioid prescriptions in limited to trauma and acute hospitalization such as childbirth, burns and end-of-life care for cancer and other terminally ill patients in most countries. Contrary to that, in the US, any adult can access these class of painkillers at will.

In most countries, production, marketing, prescription and usage of opioids is highly restricted by legislations and any individual who contravenes these regulations are punitively punished (Nilsen, 2017). Usage of opioids in countries like Japan is highly regulated and only used when absolutely necessary and for the intended purpose. For instance, use of oxycodone is only limited to cancer pains otherwise the national insurance plan will not cover for that (Nilsen, 2017). Other measures in place to ensure no misuse of opioids occur include physicians undergoing training on opioids before being allowed to prescribe them, patients and physicians having to sign an agreement before commencement of opioid treatment and for a patient to qualify to use opioids they must have been under non-opioids treatment previously. Additionally, chronic use of opioids is socially and culturally frowned in Japan and people are afraid of addiction (Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, 2012).

Patient lobby groups who advocate for use of instant pain relievers on patients with chronic pain, marketing strategies that downplay risks of addiction, bribes from pharmaceutical companies to physicians and failure by doctors to fully explain side effects of these drugs have been common in the US leading to abuse of opioids. Additionally, lack of regulations to guide usage of opioids has led to the drugs being prescribed for non-cancer pains leading to a culture of over-dependence on opioid painkillers such as Oxycontin that are powerful and very addictive and as a result, leading to the current opioid crisis..

Addressing Ethical Implications of Opioids Purdue Pharma

Purdue Pharma in realization of the health problems associated with use of opioids has entered into partnership with healthcare professionals, government agencies, communities, caregivers and patients to end abuse of these drugs (Purdue Pharm, 2018). The company has been on the forefront in educating law enforcement and healthcare professionals on avenues to combat opioid abuse as well as coming up with a prescription monitoring programs (PMPs).

Through abuse deterrence studies and development of novel formulations, the company became amongst the first to introduce abuse-deterrence properties in opioid medications as well as labelling claims.  Through effective and comprehensive compliance program, the company has been able to adhere to health and safety codes and ensuring that staff comply with state and federal regulations guiding manufacture, marketing, distribution and usage of opioids (Kaptein and Constantinescu, 2014). In a recent move, the company announced that it will cease promoting its opioid products to doctors in a bid to reduce unwarranted prescriptions.

Role of Management in Instilling a Culture of Ethics in Marketing Department

Marketing ethics is of uttermost importance in any organization and it is gaining importance day by day. The management of any organization has to ensure that there is fairness, honesty and responsibility in marketing any given products. In a bid to ensure that there is an ethical culture in marketing departments, organization leaders should ensure that personnel in the marketing department abide to highest standards of personal ethics (Monge, 2014). All communication from the marketing department must share a common standard truth and transparency in who is paid to endorse a product as well as compliance to regulations and standards set up by professional and government organizations (Checco, 2008). The management should be more open to discussing complaints and issues coming from stakeholders and ensuring that immediate and appropriate corrective measures or actions are taken to combat a future crisis (Porter, 2014).


Checco, L. (2008). Five Ways to Promote Ethics in Your Organization. Guidestar.

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Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, (2012). Guidance for proper use of medical opioids. Guidance for use and management of opioids in cancer pain treatment. Tokyo. Available from:

Kaptein M and Constantinescu, M. (2014). Mutually Enhancing Responsibility: A Theoretical Exploration of the Interaction Mechanisms between Individual and Corporate Moral Responsibility. Journal of Business Ethics. DOI 10.1007/s10551-014-2161-4

Monge, R. (2014). Institutionally Driven Moral Conflicts and Managerial Action: Dirty Hands or Permissible Complicity? Journal of Business Ethics. 129:161–175 DOI 10.1007/s10551-014-2141-8

Nilsen E. (2017). Why it's so much easier to get an opioid prescription in the US than in Europe or Japan. Available from

Porter L. (2014). Take It From The Top: How Leaders Foster An Ethical Culture (Or Not). Available from Leadership.

Purdue Pharm. (2018). Ethics & Compliance Program Description. Available from

January 19, 2024
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