In an attempt to distance itself from the opioid epedemic, Purdue Pharma recently made some leadership changes to its board of directors and executive committee, as it battles hundreds of lawsuits across the United States for opioid-related deceptive sales and marketing practices that are the focus of U.S. enforcement authorities.

Purdue Pharma, maker of Oxycotin, is one of the most prominent legal targets of the opioid epidemic. So, it’s no wonder the company on July 24 named Steve Miller as chairman of the Purdue board of directors, as the company seeks to get clean. Author of the The Turnaround Kid: What I Learned Rescuing America’s Most Troubled Companies, Miller has been credited with leading many critical corporate turnarounds, including the rescue of Chrysler in 1981, helping autoparts maker Delphi through bankruptcy, and serving as chairman of insurer American International Group in the middle of its federal bailout.

In addition to Miller’s appointment, Purdue Pharma named Marc Kesselman senior vice president and general counsel, who will be responsible for the company’s overall legal strategy, ethics and compliance, government affairs, and corporate governance. He will report directly to President and CEO Craig Landau. Kesselman succeeds Maria Barton, who will be pursuing opportunities outside of Purdue and will remain with the company during a brief transition period.

Kesselman joins Purdue most recently from similar roles in large multinational companies across the food and beverage industry. He previously served as general counsel of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and deputy general counsel of the White House Office of Management & Budget. He also was a trial attorney for the Civil Division of the Department of Justice, where he earned the John Marshall Award, the attorney general’s highest recognition for trial litigation. Early in his career, Kesselman worked as an attorney in the Washington, D.C. office of Ropes & Gray. He also served as a law clerk for the Honorable Julia S. Gibbons, then the chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee.

Both Miller and Kesselman will provide senior-level strategic counsel to the business “as the company continues to take meaningful steps to reduce opioid abuse and addiction,” the company stated. Their appointments come at a time when Purdue Pharma “continue[s] to take meaningful steps to address the opioid crisis,” Landau said in a statement.

Purdue's drug problem

Purdue is currently facing more than 1,000 lawsuits filed by numerous cities, counties, and states. For example, in October 2017, the New Jersey Attorney General’s office filed a five-count lawsuit against Purdue alleging a “direct” link between New Jersey’s opioid crisis and a push by Purdue to boost profits by deceptively marketing addictive medications and exploiting vulnerable new markets, such as the elderly and the “opioid-naïve.”  The lawsuit charged Purdue with widespread deception about the risks and benefits of these dangerously addictive pain medications.

The State’s investigation yielded evidence that each Purdue sales representative in New Jersey was required to visit seven to eight doctors per day, five days a week, to promote these opioids. The highest volume prescribers were given the title of “Super Core Prescribers” and received special attention from Purdue. Sales representatives were compensated based on reaching their “Rx quota” for each drug.  For OxyContin alone, the quotas were in the range of 500-700 prescriptions per month for each sales representative, amounting to quotas of 6,000-8,400 prescriptions per year for each sales representative. 

On Aug. 14, New York became the latest state to file a lawsuit against Purdue. Prudent compliance, risk, and legal executives in the pharmaceutical and healthcare and industries should review the 47-page complaint, and others like it, as they point to the sort of deceptive sales and marketing practices that are the focus of U.S. enforcement authorities.