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Purdue Pharma LP, maker of OxyContin, and three of its executives were ordered to pay a $634.5-million (U.S.) fine yesterday for misleading the public about the painkiller's risk of addiction. U.S. District Judge James Jones levied the fine on Purdue, its top lawyer and former president and former chief medical officer after a hearing in Abingdon, Va.. The hearing included statements by numerous people who said their lives were changed forever by the addiction potential of OxyContin, a trade name for a long-acting form of the painkiller oxycodone. Designed to be swallowed whole and digested over 12 hours, the pills can produce a heroin-like high if crushed and then swallowed, snorted or injected. From 1996 to 2001, the number of oxycodone-related deaths nationwide increased fivefold while the annual number of OxyContin prescriptions increased nearly 20-fold, according to a report by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.Michael Friedman, who retired in June as Purdue's president, general counsel Howard Udell and former chief medical officer Paul Goldenheim each pleaded guilty in May to a misdemeanour count of misbranding the drug for claiming that OxyContin was less addictive and less subject to abuse than other pain medications.

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