Marketplace® Investigative Report: How One Sentence Helped Set Off the Opioid Crisis

Marketplace uncovers how the maker of OxyContin seems to have relied more on focus groups than on scientific studies to create an aggressive and misleading marketing campaign that helped fuel the national opioid crisis

LOS ANGELES--()--Marketplace’s latest investigative report centers around a single sentence in the original label for Purdue Pharma’s drug OxyContin.

The report is an origin story of the opioid epidemic, told here and in a special episode of Marketplace’s podcast, The Uncertain Hour. The coverage highlights findings from more than eight months of investigative reporting, including the review of hundreds of documents, some of which have been under seal for more than a decade.

The coverage sheds light on the relationship between the Food and Drug Administration, the agency responsible for monitoring and approving prescription drugs, and Purdue Pharma from 1995 to 2001. At the center of the company’s original marketing, aimed at physicians during that time, was a single sentence in OxyContin’s original label:

“Delayed absorption as provided by OxyContin tablets, is believed to reduce the abuse liability of a drug.”

Purdue’s marketing campaign relied on that sentence, which suggested OxyContin was less likely to be abused than other prescription opioids, according to depositions from various sales reps and physicians pitched on the drug. But recently unsealed documents discovered by Marketplace’s reporting on the crisis provide further evidence that the claim was not backed up by clinical studies.

Marketplace’s story highlights new information behind the creation of the crucial sentence that helped set off the opioid crisis, how it wound up in an FDA-approved label, and why it took regulators six years to remove.

To read the full story, see excerpts from key documents and hear more, go to and download Marketplace’s The Uncertain Hour® podcast on Apple Podcasts here.

About Marketplace:

Marketplace® is on a mission to raise the economic intelligence of the country. Its core programs – Marketplace®, Marketplace Morning Report®, Marketplace Weekend® and Marketplace Tech® – are currently broadcast on nearly 800 public radio stations nationwide and heard by 14.6 million weekly listeners. Marketplace podcasts including Make Me Smart with Kai and Molly, The Uncertain Hour and Corner Office can be found at or on your favorite podcast app. The Marketplace portfolio of programs are produced and distributed by American Public Media®, one of the largest producers and distributors of public radio programming in the world. For more information on Marketplace, visit, follow us on twitter @marketplace or like us on Facebook. For more information on American Public Media, visit

Source: Data are copyright Nielsen Audio and StreamGuys. Data are estimates only.

About The Uncertain Hour:

In The Uncertain Hour® podcast, host Krissy Clark dives into one controversial topic each season to reveal the surprising origin stories of our economy. From the Marketplace Wealth & Poverty Desk, each season goes beyond buzzwords to bust longstanding myths and uncover surprising backstories. On this season of The Uncertain Hour, the team unpacks a ten-letter word that influences our lives every day, from the food we eat to the air we breathe: regulation. Federal regulations affect everything from what’s inside your peanut butter jar, to how the opioid crisis spread, to how we define crime in America. The Uncertain Hour dives deep to uncover what’s behind the origin of regulations in America, the red tape that shapes our democracy, and why it matters now. Because the things we fight the most about are the things we know the least about. Listen and subscribe on your favorite podcast app. Twitter: @UncertainHour


for Marketplace
Mark Larson, 619-237-7711


for Marketplace
Mark Larson, 619-237-7711