SOS spelled out by round white tablet pills and a stethoscope

The Sackler family is known for its intense secrecy . . . as well as, ironically, for getting their family name prominently installed in famous art museums and universities in the U.S. and abroad through philanthropic gifts.

Despite the family’s secrecy, journalist Patrick Radden Keefe somehow obtained the intimate and detailed information needed to write the tour de force Empire of Pain. This comprehensive work of nonfiction describes several generations of the Sackler family. It is a rages to riches story, as well as a story of pain, addiction, and death.

For, how did the family gain their fortune? Through the marketing and manufacture of medications. The company Purdue Pharma, owned by the Sackler family, is infamous for producing and selling OxyContin, a prescription medication that also became a street drug. This medication helped spark the opioid epidemic.

“The Sacklers had always espoused a fundamentally libertarian view when it came to the line of work that they were in. The family produced a product and put it into commerce. What people did with that product was not the family’s responsibility.”
—Patrick Radden Keefe, Empire of Pain

This libertarian view was also one espoused by tobacco companies, as Keefe notes. In both cases (opioid sellers and tobacco sellers), companies knew that their products were dangerous, and they actively lied to spur as many sales as possible. And according to Keefe, Purdue Pharma was one of the worst perpetrators of deceitful and harmful marketing practices in the pharmaceutical industry.

While opioids can be helpful in pain management, they can also cause spiraling addiction, as well as overdosing and death. Should the Sackler family be held accountable for all of this? They argue that they should not, that they can’t help it if some people abuse drugs that weren’t intended for that sort of use. But Keefe’s compelling evidence makes me beg to differ. If you are manufacturing a dangerous and deadly product, and instead of telling people the truth about its dangers, you lie? Then you are not helping to make our world a better place. Then you are part of the problem and should not be allowed to continue your decades-long pattern of deceit and devastation.

Are you telling the truth?