Patrick Radden Keefe is an engaging storyteller and I really enjoyed his deep dive into the Sackler family. They are infamous as the owners of Purdue Pharma, the company that made Oxycotin, the addictive opiate that ravaged many American families. Keefe starts with the original three brothers in the 1940s and follows three generations of the family up to the present. I was angered at the greed of the family and their behavior reminded me of the HBO series Succession.
The real genius of the family was Arthur Sackler who ran an advertising agency and started the pharmaceutical advertising industry. His key innovation was to market drugs at physicians. His legacy is the American pharmacuetical industry that generates billions of dollars for “Big Pharma”. He bought Purdue Pharma, a small drug company in Connecticut for his two brothers. The brothers were also big into museums and the arts, and donated millions of dollars to universities and art galleries around the world. Keefe told the fascinating story of the three brothers lives, which included multiple marriages, a world-wide empire of businesses and even their own private warehouse and gallery in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Arthur made the bulk of his fortune through Valium and later generations through Oxycontin. Both drugs caused a lot of tragedy and addiction. The family mostly insulated themselves from the reports of the wave of addiction and death caused by Oxycotin the past 20-30 years. It was sickening to know the billions of dollars the family made off of Oxycontin. The law did finally catch up with them, but not before the family used their vast wealth to buy off the Federal Drug Administration and federal judges to avoid jail. They also took out much of the fortune from Purdue Pharma before it went bankrupt. The penalties the company paid to victims was tiny compared to how much wealth individual families members took away from the company. They should be ashamed at what they did and I don’t understand their greed. No one needs billions of dollars to live a happy and productive life. They are a disgusting family. I am also upset at the FDA that they would approve such a strong opiate. They were bought off and cajoled by the Sackler law team and should be ashamed of themselves as well. For many individuals in positions of power, the lure of immense wealth outweighed their ethics.
The family is shamed and many had to leave America. Many of the institutions they donated to are taking their name off their buildings. However, they should have had to give up the vast fortunes derived from oxycontin and in my opinion, many of them should have served jail time. I guess the lesson is if you have enough money and influence, you can get away with starting an epidemic. I would compare the Sacklers to the cartel families like Pablo Escobar, The Cali Cartel and many of the Mexican drug families. To know that your fortune comes from valium and oxycontin, two drugs that are highly addictive, and be able to live with yourself is reprehensible. I may be easy for me to judge them because I never faced the opportunity of generational wealth to look past the harmful consequences on society.
I highly recommend this book if you want to more about one of the single biggest causes of the opiate epidemic in the USA.