Purdue Pharma CEO John Stewart Addresses Students at SHU
News Story: October 1, 2011
|John Stewart, CEO and president of
Purdue Pharma L.P.
While Purdue Pharma L.P. manufactures one of the most widely used and effective pain medications, OxyContin, the company is mindful of its responsibility to ensure the proper use of the prescription drug and other opioid analgesics, said John Stewart, the chief executive officer and president.
In the presentation “Providing Relief, Preventing Abuse” on September 28 at the Schine Auditorium, sponsored by Sacred Heart University’s Jack Welch College of Business and the College of Health Professions, Mr. Stewart told an audience of students and faculty members that Purdue Pharma has taken a leadership role in helping prevent the abuse of prescription pain medication.
Based in Stamford, with research and manufacturing sites in New Jersey and North Carolina, Purdue Pharma, said Mr. Stewart, is “really enthusiastic and proud of its role in developing and marketing important medications that make a difference in patients’ lives.”
As important, he added, is the role the company has assumed to supporting education of healthcare professionals. “You might not think of pharmaceutical companies as being in the field of education like Sacred Heart University, but Purdue is and that really arises out of the recognition of the fact that education of health care professionals is a critical component of optimal disease management.”
A brief presentation provided a few basic, but startling, facts about the prevalence chronic pain and its impact on our society, and also how opioid pain medications are being abused and by whom. According to the Institute of Medicine, more than 100 million adults in the United States suffer from common chronic pain conditions, making pain one of the most common reasons for visits to health care professionals. Additionally, chronic pain costs the American economy between $560 million and $635 billion in added health care costs and lost productivity.
“Pain can extract a terrible toll from individuals, and in some cases, individuals not really being able to function in normal capacity - solely because of the pain and the way it impacts them,” said Mr. Stewart, who recently agreed to join the Welch College of Business’ Board of Visitors, which provides guidance and oversight of the mission, curricula and marketing efforts to ensure the quality of the programs and accreditation standards.
Additionally, with age comes an increasing prevalence of pain, he said - noting that there are 78 million baby boomers in the United States and 10,000 of them a day turn 65 years old. By year 2024 over 20 percent of the American population (or one in five people) will be 65 or older. “While not every one of them will suffer from chronic pain, it is a sad state of affairs that many will and as sensible individuals they are going to turn to their health care providers to seek treatment.”
A major challenge for the pharmaceutical company, he said, is the abuse of prescription pain medications. Two million people per year begin to abuse prescription pain relievers, he said, adding that 21,000 teenagers abuse them each day. About 70 percent of abusers obtain pain relievers from a friend or relative. “I find this especially disturbing. What it means is that prescription medications are being taken from medicine chests right in the home. The parents or grandparents may not know what’s going on until something really tragic happens,” said Mr. Stewart, who has been CEO and president since 2007. Previously, he spent 33 years with Purdue Pharma Canada, rising from various positions to president.
Associated with the increase in abuse, he added, is the heightened number of accidental deaths attributed to unintentional overdose, especially if prescription drugs are used in conjunction with alcohol and illegal drugs. “In the last several years, it has really reached record levels,” he noted.
So what’s being done to combat abuse of pain relievers and prevent deaths, he asked his audience. “A lot,” he replied. Purdue Pharma has taken an active role in helping educate and provide resources to health care professionals, communities and law enforcement to help prevent and deter the abuse of prescription medications.
The misuse of OxyContin moved Purdue Pharma to sponsor the development of programs to educate health care professionals on how they can recognize signs of medication abuse, as well as the common “tricks” drug seekers use to obtain medications. The company also has forged relationships with organizations such as Partnership for a Drug Free America (now called The Partnership at DrugFree.org) and the Governor’s Prevention Partnership here in Connecticut to further educate the public. The company is educating the public through partnerships and public service announcements about the importance of proper storage and disposal of medications at home (www.safeguardmymeds.com). It employs experts on pharmaceutical diversion to help train police officers on how to combat the criminal trafficking of prescription drugs and provides technical assistance to support law enforcement investigations.
He talked about the company’s RxPATROL program, which collects and analyzes information on pharmacy robberies and shares it with pharmacists and law enforcement to help make pharmacies safer from theft as well as assist law enforcement efforts to identify and prosecute pharmacy crime suspects. Purdue Pharma also works to help curb “doctor shopping”, a scam in which a drug seeker visits multiple doctors and pharmacies to obtain multiple prescriptions for the purpose of abuse. The company has spent more than 10 years working with state governments to implement prescription monitoring programs that would allow healthcare professionals, and when appropriate, law enforcement to check to see if an individual is doctor shopping. Forty-eight states, including Connecticut, have prescription monitoring programs in place or under development.
Perhaps one of the most impactful approaches to combatting medication abuse, he said, is reformulating the medications themselves. As an example, he explained how OxyContin, in its early development, was could be crushed into a fine powder by abusers and then inhaled through the nose or liquefied and injected using a syringe. Purdue Pharma reformulated the OxyContin tablets in an effort to make tampering for the purposes of abuse more difficult. Compared to the original formulation, crushing the reformulated tablets is a more laborious and time intensive process, he said. Also, if someone tries to liquefy the tablet for injection, it turns into a “gummy and gooey gel” that cannot be drawn up into a syringe. Purdue Pharma’s efforts, based on preliminary reports from a battery of studies underway appear to be resulting in an overall decrease in abuse, especially intranasal and intravenous abuse, said Mr. Stewart. Additional data from other studies will become available in the months and years ahead, he added.
The benefits of Mr. Stewart’s presentation were two-fold, according to Patricia W. Walker, Ed.D., the dean of the College of Health Professions. “The abuse of prescription medication is of serious concern to both health professionals and health policy makers,” Dr. Walker said. “Abuse of prescription drugs presents a serious health risk, particularly for children living in the household who may have access to these medications. Mr. Stewart’s presentation demonstrated why it is important for our health professions graduates to become more knowledgeable of this practice so that they are able to counsel and manage patients effectively and recognize the signs of abuse.”
And from the business perspective, Rupendra Paliwal, Ph.D., the interim dean of the Jack Welch College of Business, said of his students, “I hope they came out of the event with an appreciation and understanding of the constant challenge faced by the companies to strike a right balance between corporate social responsibility and the bottom line. It was refreshing to hear from a corporate leader that they take their social responsibility seriously.”
 Institute of Medicine 2011. Relieving Pain in America: A Blueprint for Transforming Prevention, Care, Education and Research, Washington, DC; The National Academies Press.
 Population Division, U.S. Census Bureau, August 2008
 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Results from the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings, NSDUH Series H-41, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 11-4658. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2011. page 4
 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Results from the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health