Painkiller: Is Shannon Schaeffer Based on a Real Purdue Pharma Sales Rep? (2024)

Netflix’s ‘Painkiller’ is based on the true story, fictionalized for dramatic purposes, of the beginning of the opioid crisis and the role Purdue Pharma played in it. From the people in charge of the company to those who suffer from the unregulated availability of OxyContin, the show takes us through every aspect of the crisis, focusing on its impact on different sections of society. One part of the show focuses on the story of Shannon Schaeffer. She is a young college student who wants to come out of poverty.

She discovers that being a Pharma sales rep can bring her all the money she needs, bringing her to Purdue. She starts selling OxyContin and reaps the benefits but soon realizes she works for the bad guys. Because the show is based on a true story, you might want to know if Shannon Schaeffer is also based on a real person. Let’s find out. SPOILERS AHEAD

Shannon Schaeffer is Not Based on Any Real Sales Rep

Shannon Schaeffer is a fictional character created for ‘Painkiller.’ She is not based on any particular sales rep for Purdue but is a composite of the people in the company who realized that their employers were lying to the people and destroying hundreds of thousands of lives. Through Shannon’s story, we see different sides of being a sales rep for a company like Purdue, especially why someone would work for them even when they know it’s wrong.

Painkiller: Is Shannon Schaeffer Based on a Real Purdue Pharma Sales Rep? (1)

The role of the sales representatives in marketing and increasing the sales of OxyContin was brought to light in the depositions held during the trials that focused on the hundreds of lawsuits against Purdue Pharma. Investigations revealed that over the years, several salespeople had reported doctors’ concerns about the drug being addictive. They wrote down the said concerns in the memos, which were forwarded to their bosses. However, instead of resolving these concerns, the salespeople were encouraged to shrug them off.

According to a 2007 court document, sales representatives were trained to “tell health providers that OxyContin potentially creates less chance for addiction than immediate-release opioids” and that “patients who took OxyContin would not develop tolerance to the drug.” They told the doctors that OxyContin “had less abuse potential [and] was less likely to be diverted than immediate-release opioids.”

Painkiller: Is Shannon Schaeffer Based on a Real Purdue Pharma Sales Rep? (2)

The records also show that the salespeople were given more monetary incentives, like huge bonuses, to encourage them to push the doctors to prescribe more OxyContin and increase the dosage. An unsealed lawsuit filed against Purdue reveals the trajectory of a salesperson, identified as “Sales Representative 11,” which shows how much the company rewarded a boost in sales. Reportedly, the company had a “Topper’s Club” program where the salespeople with the most sales received increased bonuses and other rewards.

Sales Representative 11 was in the club for six consecutive years and is said to have earned $128,592 in bonuses in 2010 on a base pay of $110,743. Reportedly, when he received concerns from doctors and other people he was in contact with, he turned a blind eye to them and never reported it to his superiors. Instead of being punished or reprimanded, he is believed to have been rewarded for his actions.

The rewards program enticed people to work at Purdue Pharma, but not all salespeople liked what they did for the company. Carol Panara joined Purdue in 2008 after finding out about all the bonuses one could receive there. “I remember one of their reps telling me you could make $40,000 or $50,000 a quarter in bonuses,” she said. By 2009, she received a bonus of more than $16,000, and her total annual package is said to have been somewhere around $100,000. This was when she wasn’t even in the Topper’s Club. While the money was good, Panara couldn’t help but wonder if the company was lying to them. “It was always in the back of my mind that maybe the company had not told us the whole truth when they hired us, when we interviewed when we went through training,” she said.

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Panara revealed that the company underplayed the 2007 settlement, making it sound like a witch hunt and not taking any responsibility for the accusations levied on them. Instead of cutting down, like they’d agreed to in the settlement, the company encouraged the salespeople to push for the drugs to be used even in common problems, like back pain, instead of targeting patients who suffer from chronic pain due to certain conditions.

If any doctor talked about how OxyContin could become an addiction, Panara revealed that the word “pseudo-addiction” was thrown around to make things easier. “The theory of pseudo-addiction was that a patient might exhibit these drug-seeking behaviors, but if their pain were adequately managed by giving a higher dose, then that drug-seeking behavior would cease. Thereby we were building their tolerance, building their physical dependence, and making them an addict,” she said.

Panara quit Purdue Pharma in 2013 and moved on to work for companies like Marlton Pharmacy and Inventiv/Iroko in the New Jersey area. She calls her time at Purdue “one of the, if not the worse, career decisions” of her life. She feels the guilt of working with the company that was “so blasé, so negligent about taking responsibility” and hoped they’d be held accountable for their actions. She believes that Purdue “misrepresented to the public and their salespeople” just to make loads of money. Considering all this, it’s clear that Shannon Schaeffer, even if fictional, represents the sales reps of Purdue and the cycle of money and success that lured them into working for a company that went directly against their morals.

Read More:Is Gregory Fitzgibbons Based on a Real Doctor?

Painkiller: Is Shannon Schaeffer Based on a Real Purdue Pharma Sales Rep? (2024)
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