Purdue Pharma, makers of the prescription drug OxyContin, announced it is decreasing its sales staff and will no longer market opioid drugs to doctors.
OxyContin has always been the world's top-selling opioid painkiller and generated billions in sales for privately-held Purdue. Accordingly, the company has laid off more than 50 percent of its sales force, with the remaining employees focusing on non-opioid products.
Doctors who want information on opioids will now need to contact the company's medical affairs department.
Amid the opioid epidemic, Purdue and other drugmakers have been fighting a wave of lawsuits by states, counties and cities that have accused them of pushing addictive painkillers through deceptive marketing.
Purdue's sales representatives will now focus on the Symproic drug created to treat opioid-induced constipation, and other non-opioid products.
"Effective Monday, February 12, 2018, our field sales organization will no longer be visiting your offices to engage you in discussions about our opioid products", Kwarcinski said in the letter, which was released to media outlets. Symproic is used to treat opioid-related constipation.
Dozens of lawsuits across the country allege Purdue Pharma launched a fraudulent marketing scheme to boost sales of OxyContin in the late 1990s that downplayed the risks for addiction from pain medication.
The government pressure on opioid prescribing is having a profound effect.
USA deaths linked to opioids have quadrupled since 2000 to roughly 42,000 in 2016, or about 115 lives lost per day.
The move comes as opioid addiction continues to take a devastating toll on large swathes of the United States.
On its website, Purdue-which is a privately held company-is positioning itself as still wanting to be a player in pain management going forward.
"We are deeply troubled by the opioid crisis, and we are dedicated to being part of the solution", the company said.
Purdue and three former executives pleaded guilty in federal court a decade ago to criminal charges of misleading the public about the addictive nature of OxyContin, paying more than $630 million in fines and penalties.