In a year that has included a global pandemic, a presidential election, and my own transition, there are times when it feels like nothing could shock me anymore, but this story certainly got the job done.
Purdue Pharma agreed to plead guilty to a variety of charges connected to their aggressive sales and distribution of OxyContin; the infamous opioid linked to countless overdoses and deaths over the last two decades.
Now that the case is more or less settled, we're getting a closer look at the inner workings of the company's sales campaign and more evidence obtained by the Justice Department that hadn't been previously reported.
According to documents obtained by the New York Times, the McKinsey & Company consulting firm was hired by Purdue to increase their sales of OxyContin and one of the tactics they recommended was to essentially reward providers for increasing overdoses.
The 160 pages include emails and slides revealing new details about McKinsey’s advice to the Sackler family, Purdue’s billionaire owners, and the firm’s now notorious plan to “turbocharge” OxyContin sales at a time when opioid abuse had already killed hundreds of thousands of Americans.
In a 2017 presentation, according to the records, which were filed in court on behalf of multiple state attorneys general, McKinsey laid out several options to shore up sales. One was to give Purdue’s distributors a rebate for every OxyContin overdose attributable to pills they sold.
The presentation estimated how many customers of companies including CVS and Anthem might overdose. It projected that in 2019, for example, 2,484 CVS customers would either have an overdose or develop an opioid use disorder. A rebate of $14,810 per “event” meant that Purdue would pay CVS $36.8 million that year.
So, they not only knew their sales were driving an epidemic of abuse; the epidemic itself was a vehicle for more sales.
Reached for comment, CVS said the company did not receive payment for increasing overdoses linked to pills sold by the company. It's not clear if Purdue followed this specific advice from McKinsey, but the Times reports that the Sackler family used most of their recommendations to increase sales and thus overdoses.
McKinsey is reportedly worried about their legal exposure now that Purdue and the Sackler family have admitted their guilt. And they should be worried because this is fucking insane.
If McKinsey told Purdue they could increase sales by paying providers to kill more people, I can scarcely imagine what other ghoulish advice they've offered to their other clients. The Biden-era Justice Department should hover over McKinsey with a magnifying glass, but they should also take a look at what the Trump-era department may have kept under wraps.