McKinsey Advised Purdue Pharma How to ‘Turbocharge’ Opioid Sales, Lawsuit Says

In 2013, amid the rapidly intensifying opioid crisis, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and the Justice Department reached a settlement with Walgreens, the second-biggest American pharmacy chain. Walgreens agreed to new procedures to crack down on illegal prescriptions. In a report to Purdue Pharma, McKinsey said that “deep examination of Purdue’s available pharmacy purchasing data shows that Walgreens has reduced its units by 18%.”

According to the lawsuit, McKinsey recommended that Purdue “lobby Walgreens’ leaders to loosen up.”

McKinsey also recommended that Purdue redirect its sales force to focus on doctors who were especially prolific prescribers of OxyContin, according to the suit. One slide made public by the attorney general’s office, attributed to McKinsey, focused on one doctor in the town of Wareham, Mass., who almost doubled his annual output of OxyContin prescriptions after a big increase in visits from Purdue sales representatives.

If doctors resisted, McKinsey recommended that Purdue employ “patient pushback,” getting patients to lobby for OxyContin, according to the suit.

In a statement, Purdue said that the Massachusetts attorney general’s office “offers little evidence to support its sweeping legal claims.” The company also said that the lawsuit mischaracterized McKinsey’s work with Purdue.

On a chat site where participants must have a McKinsey email address to register for the company’s discussion room, several expletive-laced expressions of outrage over the revelations of McKinsey’s work with Purdue were mixed with comments about the responsibility to serve the client’s bottom line within moral and ethical boundaries.

“Then, of course it’s ok to maximize shareholder value, seek profits!,” one person wrote. “But not at all costs, not at the cost of our moral values and our society’s well being.”

Another person’s post — like all 42 entries about Purdue and McKinsey posted by midday Friday, it was anonymous — reproduced a bullet point from McKinsey’s values statement stating that the company will “observe high ethical standards.”

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