Past to Present Historical Case

by Lisa Meloncon

I love when my different fields converge in really, really interesting ways, which was the case this past week when an intriguing internal training document from 1996 (that I have not been able to 100% verify) popped up on social media.

The merging of fields is that this training material (which is clearly a form of technical/professional writing) is all about how to sell Oxycontin (rhetoric of health and medicine). It’s absolutely fascinating on so many, many levels. From it’s use of “good storytelling” (also known a narrative) using the Wizard of Oz (yes, the Wizard of Oz, which raises all sorts of its own questions and concerns) to focusing in on the need to make a clear and persuasive pitch to physicians. The plan for the presentation is classic rhetoric and it highlights in some really tried and true ways of how to get your message across. The ending with the finding the pot of gold is just priceless!

These materials also contain the oft-cited sentence about the addiction potential of the drug: “Delayed absorption as provided by OxyContin tablets, is believed to reduce the abuse liability of a drug.” (it’s on the top of the second page, end of first paragraph). This one sentence was not only in the marketing materials, but allowed to be printed in the drug’s FDA approved “label.” It’s been the highlight of several lawsuits filed. Thus, it furthers the area of the rhetoric of health and medicine to legal and policy

Beyond just this one sentence, the marketing materials are a classic case study in how to use language to persuade people. Ala rhetoric! I don’t have the time right now to do even a mini-analysis that would do this document justice. But, it’s absolutely something that I will use in a number of different classes as an historical case that has lots to teach us about the creation and production of current health communication.

But, of course, there are all sorts of other issues raised in this short document not to mention the wide number of ethical issues and concerns related to the drug itself but also in the approach to marketing. Hindsight some 20 years later makes us read this document differently, but it also provides us some important insights into how we should be approaching current complex communication situations ethically.

The American Journal of Public Health article,The Promotion and Marketing of OxyContin: Commercial Triumph, Public Health Tragedy, gives some history and current info (with a good bibliography) on the marketing of the drug.

Enjoy the short read of the training materials–and I’d be happy to post an analysis if someone with more time wants to do one! 🙂





Be the first to reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *