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Oxycontin firm to pay $600m

Executives face fine of $34.5m in settlement

NEW YORK -- Purdue Pharma LP and three current and former executives pleaded guilty and agreed to pay $634.5 million to settle criminal and civil claims they misled doctors as to the addictiveness of Oxycontin.

Purdue promoted the synthetic morphine substitute from 1996 to 2001 as a low-risk painkiller, according to court papers. The drug is pure oxycodone, a habit-forming narcotic derived from the opium poppy, John Brownlee, the US attorney for the Western District of Virginia, said. The criminal pleas were entered yesterday in federal court in Abingdon, Va.

"Purdue's claims that Oxycontin was less addictive and less subject to abuse and diversion were false," Brownlee said.

In 1996, the closely held company introduced the drug, which had estimated sales of $940 million last year, for patients with cancer or chronic pain. The tablets are subject to abuse because they can be crushed into powder that is swallowed or sniffed for a high.

Almost all US pharmaceutical firms have been accused by US authorities or consumers in the last three years of illegally promoting their products to consumer or doctors.

Under the settlement, Purdue Pharma will pay $600 million in criminal and civil penalties and forfeitures, including $100.6 million to the US government. Chief executive Michael Friedman pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of misbranding Oxycontin, as did Purdue Pharma General Counsel Howard Udell and former chief medical officer Paul Goldenheim. The three agreed to pay a fine of $34.5 million and face no prison time.

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