Sidebar Piece

The Sackler family behind America’s opioid crisis?

Jenna Seng

August 29th, 2019

The opioid crisis has left thousands of Americans dead and addicted, and news outlets are saying the Sackler family is to blame.

When the words “opioid crisis in America” cross headlines the household name that comes to mind is often OxyContin created by Purdue Pharma, but behind Purdue Pharma is another household that has profited off American addiction for nearly 100 years.

The Sackler family is one of wealth and transatlantic dominance. Stemming from the three Sackler brothers (Aurther, Mortimer, and Raymond) is a major family-owned pharmaceutical company, Purdue Pharma. Purdue Pharma developed the drug OxyContin in 1996 and according to the article, “The Promotion and Marketing of OxyContin: Commercial Triumph, Public Health Tragedy” by Art Van Zee, MD the drug was marketed to doctors who statistically prescribed more opioids.

Oxycontin sales reps were incentivized and paid an extra $40 million dollars that year to aggressively market the drug. OxyContin marketing avoided claims that the drugs purpose was to be a cancer pain medication. Purdue also used a coupon system where free prescriptions from seven-30 days of supply would be given to new patients, about 34,000 coupons had been used by the time the program ended in 2001, and by 2004 OxyContin was one of the most abused drugs in America.

Two-thousand lawsuits later with 40 states filing against Purdue, the Sackler family is now a major settlement away from taking their hand out of “Big Pharma” by giving up ownership of Purdue Pharma. According to Marcy Oster from jta.org the settlement is calling for: “the company to restructure under a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing which would turn the private company into a “public beneficiary trust,” allowing the profits from all drug sales, including OxyContin, to go to the plaintiffs of lawsuits…The company also would agree to give its addiction treatment drugs free to the public. Those drugs are currently under development.”

The opioid crisis is one that needs major fixing, and moving forward, in a statement in response to the leaked deposition of Richard Sackler in 2015 Purdue acknowledged that there was, “determination to avoid emphasizing OxyContin as a powerful cancer pain drug” due to “a concern that non-cancer patients would be reluctant to take a cancer drug.”

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