How an Elite Consulting Firm Helped America’s Opioid Epidemic From Bad To Worse
What is more surprising is the role played in this matter by a famous consulting firm: “Mentioned extensively, though not actually named, in the settlement document released by the DOJ in October is a “consulting company” said to have worked for Purdue since “approximately the mid-2000s.” Though anyone familiar with a recent lawsuit against the corporation pursued by the state of Massachusetts could probably have ventured a guess as to the mysterious firm’s identity, court filings obtained by the New York Times made it official late last month. As the Times reported:
Documents released … in a federal bankruptcy court in New York show that the adviser was McKinsey & Company, the world’s most prestigious consulting firm. The 160 pages include emails and slides revealing new details about McKinsey’s advice to members of the Sackler family, Purdue’s billionaire owners, and the firm’s now notorious plan to “turbocharge” OxyContin sales at a time when opioid abuse had already killed hundreds of thousands of Americans.”
The article goes on to laud the macabre brilliance of the McKinsey consultants: “Though the company has not been charged or sued by the federal government, its involvement in Purdue Pharma’s activities was clearly not passive or peripheral. As the settlement agreement released by the DOJ makes abundantly clear, McKinsey consultants worked closely with Purdue Pharma management both to identify the causes of declining sales and to formulate a strategy by which they could be reversed.
On the first score, their diagnosis was a simple one: “Both the reformulation and safeguards against medically unnecessary prescriptions” (in the settlement’s language) were to blame, and the “retail channel” (as the company informed Purdue Pharma) was “under intense scrutiny and direct risk.” In other words, increased awareness about the dangers of excessive OxyContin prescription had caused distributors and public authorities alike to become more cautious — a development which threatened to reduce profits. A 2014 budget presentation to Purdue Pharma’s board would subsequently identify newfound safeguards against the unnecessary prescription of opioids as “challenges” to its revenue goals.
….To help Purdue Pharma overcome declining sales, McKinsey consultants employed sophisticated analytics techniques to identify potential areas for increasing sales and rates of prescription such that the company’s marketing and distribution efforts could be targeted more effectively. Garnishing the initiative with the peppy, vaguely collegiate label “Evolve to Excellence,” McKinsey sent a memo to Purdue Pharma asking it to approve or reject E2E, which it suggested would “Turbocharge the Sales Engine.” As the settlement agreement details:
E2E took a multifaceted approach to increasing OxyContin prescribing and Purdue’s profits. The consulting company [McKinsey] recommended, among other strategies, refreshing Purdue’s marketing messaging – particularly around titration to higher, more lucrative dosages – and undertaking strategies to ensure prescriptions would be filled. At its core, however, E2E focused on intensifying marketing to the very highest-volume prescribers in the country…”
In case you are now feeling worked up about the whole thing, you shouldn’t because: “Having suddenly discovered ethics amid a growing PR disaster, McKinsey has since announced that it will no longer “advise any clients worldwide on opioid-specific business” and even issued a rare apology for its role in OxyContin sales.”