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How McKinsey consultants helped push opioid sales

The New York Times takes a step back from the lawsuits and criminal charges against opioid manufacturers to note that McKinsey, the consulting firm, also keeps coming up in those proceedings.

The big picture: Purdue Pharma and Johnson & Johnson both hired McKinsey to boost opioid sales. McKinsey hasn't been charged or sued for any role in the crisis, but details about the company's involvement have nevertheless crept out through testimony and court filings.

Why it matters: One constant, in every lawsuit and criminal case, is that drugmakers were laser-focused on sales above all else — sometimes illegally, but sometimes just by treating the drugs like any other corporate sales project.

  • Former Insys executives were recently convicted of bribing doctors to prescribe its painkiller, Subsys. But the trial also revealed a host of other, more mundane tactics designed to boost Subsys sales.
  • Emails show a similar mindset at Purdue. When told that OxyContin addiction would get worse if the drug wasn't regulated as a controlled substance, former CEO Richard Sackler asked, "How substantially would it improve your sales?”
  • And you hire McKinsey because of its expertise in maximizing profit, not because it knows how best to treat patients.

That sales-first mentality did not start or stop with opioids.

  • Johnson & Johnson testified that it's still working with McKinsey on its other drugs, the Times notes.
  • Pharmaceutical companies spend roughly $26 billion per year on marketing.

Go deeper: There are more opioid overdoses in the suburbs than ever

Editors' note: This story has been updated to reflect corrections in the New York Times story it references.