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Pfizer agrees to limit painkiller marketing

Pfizer, the world’s second-largest drug company, has agreed to a written code of conduct for the marketing of opioids that some officials hope will set a standard for manufacturers of narcotics and help curb the use of painkillers.

Though Pfizer does not sell as many opioids as some competitors, its action sets it apart from companies that have been accused of fueling an epidemic of opioid misuse through aggressive marketing of their products.

Pfizer has agreed to disclose in its promotional material that narcotic painkillers carry serious risk of addiction — even when used properly — and promised not to promote opioids for unapproved, “off-label” uses such as long-term back pain. The company also will acknowledge there is no good research on opioids’ effectiveness beyond 12 weeks. The terms of the agreement were reached with the city of Chicago and will be announced Wednesday. The company said it already follows many of these rules voluntarily.

Pfizer also has also been aiding Chicago’s investigation and lawsuit against five other opioid manufacturers over alleged misleading marketing of opioids.

But Adriane Fugh-Berman, director of Pharmed Out, which advocates rational prescribing practices, said she saw limited value in the agreement.

Aggressive, sometimes fraudulent marketing of OxyContin by Purdue Pharma, one of the targets of Chicago’s lawsuit, is widely blamed for the rapid growth of U.S. painkiller use.

Around the turn of the century, Purdue swarmed primary care physicians, who had little expertise in pain management, in their offices and at company-sponsored conferences. Subsequent research has shown the effort helped spread the use of the painkiller, which was developed for severe pain after surgery and end-of-life care.

In 2007, Purdue pleaded guilty to criminal charges of misleading physicians, regulators and the public about the drug’s addictive qualities.


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