OxyContin Maker Starts Ad Campaign

.c The Associated Press

STAMFORD, Conn. (AP) - Purdue Pharma, under attack over its painkiller OxyContin, is starting an advertising campaign in newspapers around the country to highlight its efforts to combat abuse of the powerful prescription drug.

The privately held company said it would start running the ads Thursday in papers from Maine to Florida.

The campaign is expected to last about six months and may include a television commercial. Officials declined to say how much they expected the campaign to cost.

``There's been too little recognition in the media for what we have been doing,'' Robin Hogen, a spokesman for Stamford-based Purdue Pharma, said Wednesday. ``We could bury our heads in the sand the way the industry has.''

OxyContin is the nation's top-selling narcotic painkiller and generates more than $1 billion in annual sales for Purdue Pharma. It is a 12-hour, time-released medication meant to alleviate severe chronic pain.

Federal officials blame OxyContin and similar morphine-like drugs for hundreds of deaths nationwide over the past two years. Abusers of OxyContin chew the pills or crush them and inject or snort it to defeat the time-release coating and get a heroin-like high.

The company is facing lawsuits, growing scrutiny from regulators and even calls for banning the drug. But supporters say OxyContin is highly effective in relieving chronic pain for millions of legitimate users.

On Tuesday, Dr. James Graves became the nation's first doctor convicted of manslaughter in the OxyContin death of a patient. The Florida doctor was convicted of prescribing OxyContin to four patients who died from overdoses.

The new ads never actually mention OxyContin. Instead, they simply state that 4 million Americans each month abuse a variety of prescription drugs, including pain medications, weight-loss pills and antidepressants.

``And Purdue Pharma is doing something about it,'' the ad states. Those measures, the ad continues, include developing new medicines that will be abuse-resistant, distributing free tamper-resistant prescription pads, educating teens on the dangers of prescription drug abuse, and encouraging prescription monitoring programs.

The ads build on a pilot program begun in November, featuring radio advertisements in Palm Beach County, Fla., Cincinnati, Philadelphia and Charleston, W.Va.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, a vocal critic, said the company has been moving in the right direction to address concerns, but still needs to do more.

``The public relations campaign won't make the problem go away,'' said Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.

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AP-NY-02-20-02 1727EST