How One Sentence Helped Purdue Pharma Sell Billions of Dollars Worth of Opioids


Between 1999 and 2015, roughly 300,000 people in the United States died from opioid overdoses. And of the five states with the highest rates of drug overdose deaths in 2016, four were in Appalachia. The opioid epidemic is killing our friends and neighbors.

The story is so important that on this episode of Inside Appalachia, the producers turned the bulk of the show over to The Uncertain Hour, a podcast from American Public Media’s Marketplace. Their investigation, first aired in December, centered on a lesser-known but significant aspect of the opioid crisis: how Purdue Pharma marketed OxyContin, its highly addictive pain medication.

In her special report, producer Caitlin Esch traveled throughout Appalachia, including a stop at the courthouse in McDowell County, West Virginia, where she uncovered hundreds of documents. Some had previously never been made public. She found a single sentence that Purdue relied on to aggressively market OxyContin helped advance the opioid epidemic.

"Some of the information has, for the last 13 years, been sitting in an envelope, marked 'sealed' in a West Virginia county courthouse." – Krissy Clark, host of The Uncertain Hour

Listen to learn more about Purdue Pharma’s marketing strategy in the 1990s, which helped the company sell OxyContin and make billions of dollars.

Inside Appalachia host, Jessica Lilly, ended the episode with these thoughts: 

“After losing someone to an opioid overdose, and watching several loved ones struggle with opioid addiction, this story is gut wrenching for me,” she said. “I know I’m not alone. Most of us know someone who’s succumbed to opioids. Where is the balance between financial gain and the public’s well-being? That’s something we’re going to continue to explore here at West Virginia Public Broadcasting.”

You can follow those stories and more by subscribing to the Inside Appalachia podcast. Just click the red button to get started.

We had help producing Inside Appalachia this week from APM, Marketplace and The Uncertain Hour. The full episode is available on their website.

Roxy Todd and Jessica Lilly co-produce the show. Ibby Caputo edited our episode this week. Our executive producer is Jesse Wright. Our audio mixer is Patrick Stephens.