Graduation Year


Document Type

Senior Thesis


Bachelor of Arts

Primary Major


Thesis Advisor

Jordan Lieser, PhD


This research paper serves as a case study, providing an updated history of the American opioid crisis through the lens of OxyContin and Purdue Pharma. In 1996 the long-acting opioid OxyContin was approved by the Food and Drug Administration and became the most prescribed Schedule II narcotic by 2001. Prescription guidelines from the World Health Organization show that opioid prescription before 1996 was limited primarily to those who were terminally ill or suffering severe pain. This paper will show how Purdue Pharma successfully manipulated the medical outlook on pain and opioids in an attempt to streamline OxyContin for mild pain. From sales representatives with uncapped salary incentives to all-expense-paid 5-star symposiums, millions of dollars were spent sponsoring renowned pain management doctors and pain societies. Using leaked budget reports, this paper outlines Purdue Pharma's successful strategy to convince doctors that OxyContin was to be marketed heavily for long-term pain use for patients with Osteoarthritis. This paper also carefully analyzes patient pamphlets and medical journal advertisements showing unsubstantiated and illegal claims that surfaced regularly in the late 1990s. Data from The Center for Disease Control shows that from 1996 to 2021 over 500,000 Americans have died from Opioid-related overdoses with over 100,000 deaths alone during the current pandemic. Government court hearings show a history of delayed federal action that would allow OxyContin to become the catalyst of today’s opioid epidemic.