McKinsey advised Purdue Pharma to pay pharmacies rebates for OxyContin overdoses

McKinsey, the prestigious consulting firm that advised Purdue Pharma on how to ramp up OxyContin sales, recommended the drugmaker pay its distributors a rebate for every overdose the painkiller caused, according to a Nov. 27 New York Times report.  

The Justice Department noted that an undisclosed consulting company helped Purdue Pharma ramp up OxyContin sales during the drugmaker's Nov. 24 hearing, in which it pleaded guilty to three criminal charges related to the painkiller's marketing and sales. Documents released in a New York federal bankruptcy court reveal that firm to be McKinsey.

The documents reveal McKinsey had advised the Sackler family, owners of Purdue Pharma, to "turbocharge" OxyContin sales during a time when the government and pharmaceutical industry was aware that hundreds of thousands of Americans had died from opioid overdoses. Included in the 160 pages of emails and slides is a McKinsey presentation from 2017 that suggested the drugmaker pay a rebate for every overdose attributable to OxyContin, estimating how many customers from distributors such as CVS or Anthem may overdose.

McKinsey's presentation predicted that 2,484 CVS customers would either have an opioid-related overdose or develop an opioid use disorder in 2019, according to NYT. The presentation, which suggested a rebate of $14,810 per overdose, estimated Purdue Pharma would pay CVS $36.8 million in 2019 under that plan, the newspaper reported.

"This is the banality of evil, MBA edition," Anand Giridharadas, a former McKinsey consultant, told NYT of the firm's work with Purdue Pharma. "They knew what was going on. And they found a way to look past it, through it, around it, so as to answer the only questions they cared about: how to make the client money and, when the walls closed in, how to protect themselves."

A McKinsey representative told NYT Nov. 25 that the firm had been "cooperating fully with the opioid-related investigations" and had announced in 2019 that it "would not advise any clients worldwide on opioid-specific business."

The consulting firm's role in the opioid epidemic garnered attention in 2019, as a Massachusetts court released documents showing McKinsey helped Purdue Pharma "counter the emotional messages from mothers with teenagers that overdosed.”

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