Since 1996, more than 200,000 people have died in the U. S. from overdoses involving prescription opioids manufactured as OxyContin by Purdue Pharma.
Members of the Sackler family, which owns Purdue Pharma are responsible for misleading doctors and patients about the dangers of OxyContin. A recent court filing by the Massachusetts attorney general cited internal communications from Richard Sackler, president of Purdue from 1999 to 2003, recommending that blame should be placed on people who become addicted. “We have to hammer on abusers in every way possible,” he wrote in an email in 2001, “they are the culprits and the problem. They are reckless criminals.”
Richard Sackler, son of Purdue Pharma founder, Raymond Sackler, urged sales representatives to advise doctors to prescribe the highest dosage of the powerful opioid painkiller because it was the most profitable. At a celebration after the drug’s approval by the FDA, Mr. Sackler boasted that “the launch of OxyContin tablets will be followed by a blizzard of prescriptions that will bury the competition.” The Sacklers are one of the richest families in the United States because of the success of OxyContin but they have never been held accountable. Until now.
In 2007, three of Purdue’s top executives pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges that Purdue misrepresented the dangers of OxyContin and they paid $634.5 million in fines. But the Sacklers were not accused of any wrongdoing. However, last June, Maura Healey, the Massachusetts attorney general sued eight members of the Sackler family, along with the company and numerous executives, alleging that they had misled doctors and patients about the risks of OxyContin and instead aggressively promoted the drug to doctors who later lost their licenses.
Sales reps told doctors that OxyContin couldn’t be abused and they were trained to say that the drug had an addiction risk for patients of “less than one percent.” The court filing asserts that the Sackler family was aware that Purdue repeatedly failed to alert authorities to reports received by the company that Oxy was being abused and sold on the street. Teenagers discovered that all they needed to do was crush OxyContin to get access to large amounts of a pure narcotic, oxycodone, contained in the pills. Purdue also used pharmacy discount cards to increase the sales of the drug.
In 2016, Forbes magazine estimated the family’s wealth at about $13 billion. It is ironic that the Sackler name graces museums, university buildings and hospitals. All of that philanthropy comes at the expense of more than 200,000 human lives.