Some conference attendees were stunned when they saw the company logo: Mundipharma, the international affiliate of Purdue Pharma—the maker of the blockbuster opioid, OxyContin, widely blamed for unleashing the American overdose epidemic.
Here they were cashing in on a cure.
“You’re in the business of selling medicine that causes addiction and overdoses, and now you’re in the business of selling medicine that treats addiction and overdoses?” asked Dr. Andrew Kolodny, an outspoken critic of Purdue who has testified against the company in court. “That’s pretty clever, isn’t it?”
As Purdue Pharma buckles under a mountain of litigation and public protest in the United States, its foreign affiliate, Mundipharma, has expanded abroad, using some of the same tactics to sell the addictive opioids that made its owners, the Sackler family, among the richest in the world. Mundipharma is also pushing another strategy globally: From Europe to Australia, it is working to dominate the market for opioid overdose treatment.
“The way that they’ve pushed their opioids initially and now coming up with the expensive kind of antidote—it’s something that just strikes me as deeply, deeply cynical,” said Ross Bell, executive director of the New Zealand Drug Foundation and a longtime advocate of greater naloxone availability. “You’ve got families devastated by this, and a company who sees dollar signs flashing.”
Mundipharma’s antidote, a naloxone nasal spray called Nyxoid, was recently approved in New Zealand, Europe and Australia. Mundipharma defended it as a tool to help those whose lives are at risk, and even experts who criticize the company say that antidotes to opioid overdoses are badly needed. Patrice Grand, a spokesman for Mundipharma Europe, said in a statement that heroin is the leading cause of overdose death in European countries and nasal naloxone is an important treatment option.
Injectable naloxone has long been available; it is generic and cheap. But Mundipharma’s Nyxoid is the first in many countries that comes pre-packaged as a nasal spray—an easier, less threatening way for those who witness an overdose to intervene. Nyxoid, which isn’t sold in the United States, is more expensive than injectable naloxone, running more than $50 a dose in some European countries. A similar product manufactured by another pharmaceutical company has been available for years in the United States under the brand name Narcan.
Critics say Nyxoid’s price is excessive, particularly when inexpensive naloxone products already exist. Grand declined to say how much Nyxoid costs Mundipharma to manufacture or how profitable it has been.