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Oxycontin Manufacturer Lied About Dangers of Drug

Top executives of the company that makes a powerful painkiller called Oxycontin admitted this week they lied about the drug's addictive qualities in order to boost sales. As VOA's Melinda Smith reports, worldwide abuse of prescription drugs, such as Oxycontin, is almost as widespread as illegal drug use.

Oxycontin can be a legitimate blessing for many patients in great pain. The tablets contain between 10 and 160 milligrams of the drug in a timed-release form, which can provide as much as 12 hours of relief. But many addicts get a fast 'high' by crushing the pill before taking it.

Two people who know what Oxycontin can do are Jack Osbourne, the son of rock singer Ozzie Osbourne, and radio talk show host, Rush Limbaugh.

"Your body just craves it and the fact that it was like heroin - I was, like, 'right on’," said Osbourne.

"I am addicted to prescription pain medication," admitted Limbaugh.

In recent years, emergency room doctors have treated a growing number of addicts who overdosed on Oxycontin. Some lived. Others did not.

John Brownlee is a prosecutor who charged the drug's maker with lying about the drug's potential dangers. "They disregarded those warnings and continued to fraudulently market Oxycontin, claiming that it was less subject to abuse, less addictive, and less likely to cause withdrawal symptoms when they in fact knew that was not true."

The drug company, Purdue Pharma, has admitted misleading physicians and the public about the risks of Oxycontin. Purdue Pharma has admitted responsibility for misleading statements by some of its employees.

Under the legal settlement, Purdue Pharma will pay $643 million in fines. Families whose relatives used Oxycontin say that is a small amount compared to the $10 billion in sales the company earned while the fraudulent marketing campaign was underway.