Feb. 11 (UPI) -- Purdue Pharma, makers of the prescription drug OxyContin, announced it is decreasing its sales staff and will no longer market opioid drugs to doctors.
The pharmaceutical company said it will cut its sales force by more than 50 percent, leaving about 200 people remaining in the department.
"We have restructured and significantly reduced our commercial operation and will no longer be promoting opioids to prescribers," Purdue said in a statement.
Purdue's head of medical affairs, Monica Kwarcinski, said the company also plans to run all questions through its medical affairs department as part of its efforts to support "responsible" opioid use.
"Effective Monday, February 12, 2018, our field sales organization will no longer be visiting your offices to engage you in discussions about our opioid products," Kwarcinski wrote in a letter to prescribers. "Requests for information about our opioid products will be handled through direct communication with the highly experienced healthcare professionals that comprise our Medical Affairs department."
The restructuring comes amid lawsuits filed by Ohio, Alabama and Washington attorneys general who allege Purdue has exacerbated the opioid drug addiction crisis through its sale and marketing of OxyContin.
The lawsuits say Purdue misled prescribers and the public by marketing opioids as a safe substitute for non-addictive pain medications such as ibuprofen and contributed to an increase in heroin use.
Up to one in four people who received prescriptions for opioid drugs such as OxyContin struggle with opioid addiction, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.
Purdue "vigorously denies" any misconduct, saying it has consistently followed the CDC's opioid guidelines including not recommending opioids as a first option.
"We are deeply troubled by the opioid crisis, and we are dedicated to being part of the solution," the company said.