In Painkiller, Dr. Curtis Wright stands in Richard Sackler and his drug’s way. OxyContin struggles to get FDA approval with Wright reviewing it. Noah Harpster plays Curtis Wright.
Richard Sackler sees Curtis Wright as just another formality he has to go through to get OxyContin’s FDA approval, but Wright proves Sackler wrong.
According to Edie Flowers, the FDA doesn’t have a panel of experts reviewing every detail of the application. More often than not, it takes the company’s word for it. When a new product comes in, the FDA doesn’t test it themselves; they just review what they have been given.
The drugs are usually reviewed by just one person. In OxyContin’s case, Dr. Curtis Wright is given the job of reviewing it. Richard Sackler spends a lot of money, assuming he will walk right through FDA approval.
However, Sackler meets one person, in the form of Dr. Curtis Wright, who actually cares about the effects of OxyContin.
Targeting Wright’s ego
To get Dr. Curtis Wright to approve the drug, Richard Sackler, Raymond Sackler, and Mortimer Sackler meet Dr. Wright in person. They burn through the money because of Dr. Wright, who knows heroin in pill form is highly dangerous.
Sackler takes Arthur’s ideas and plans to MICE Wright. By MICE, Sackler means money, ideology, coercion, and ego. He needs to target one of these to flip Wright.
They go with Wright’s ego. They form an unusual and abnormal amount of contact with Wright to make him feel needed. All Purdue wants from Wright is to approve the drug with language that would allow them to say that, with full FDA approval, OxyContin is the safest opioid in the market.
Wright doesn’t fold easily because he is a scientist, and there is no science here. Curtis continues to disapprove of their drug for a very long time. Sackler is then forced to resume appealing to his ego.
Purdue arranges for Wright to publish a paper with Dr. Robert Kaiko, Richard’s head of R&D and clinical research. Even that doesn’t work.
Does Wright give OxyContin FDA approval?
When targeting the ego doesn’t work, Sackler goes with Plan B. Purdue invites Wright to a meeting in person, and they propose the idea of having a more informal relationship.
Wright agrees to this relationship. Purdue books a room for three days at a hotel somewhere between Washington, D.C. and Norwalk, Connecticut.
Nobody knows what happened in that hotel, but sometime later after that meeting, Wright approved the language Sackler needed. OxyContin’s FDA report said delayed absorption, as provided by OxyContin tablets, is believed to reduce the abuse liability of the drug.
The words ‘is believed’ made the difference and allowed Sackler to market his drug. It’s the one and only time those words appeared in a drug application.
Nobody can prove anything illegal happened. However, a year after giving OxyContin FDA approval, Curtis Wright left the organization and joined Purdue Pharma. He celebrated there like never before.
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