How McKinsey, the World’s Most Elite Consulting Firm, Helped Turbocharge America’s Opioid Epidemic

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.

Elsewhere in the settlement agreement, the language proves equally clinical and no less sinister. 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[28]:

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 by targeting them with increased frequency and minimizing sales representative discretion in identifying prescribers to target. The E2E call plans targeted the highest-volume prescribers in the country, and the program demanded stricter adherence with call plans than had existed in years past.

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