When Purdue Pharma introduced OxyContin, its opioid pill, to the market in 1995, company owner Richard Sackler predicted at a company launch party that “the prescription blizzard will be so deep, dense, and white.” How right he was. Hundreds of thousands of deaths later, large swaths of our country are buried in an opioid blizzard that has caused immeasurable suffering. At least 2 million are addicted to opioids, and more Americans now die of overdoses of various opioids (including heroin and fentanyl) every year than are killed in car accidents or gun assaults. In a new court filing, the Massachusetts attorney general has revealed how Sackler reacted when it became clear Purdue had lied about OxyContin’s highly addictive nature. Blame the victims, he urged in an email to underlings. “We have to hammer on abusers in every way possible,” he said. “They are the culprits.” (See page 7.)
This is the rationalization of pushers everywhere: I’m not forcing anyone to buy my product, and if these fools destroy themselves, why is that my problem? After opioid addiction became an epidemic, Purdue and three of its top executives paid $634 million in fines in 2007 for deceiving doctors and patients about OxyContin’s dangers. But Sackler was never charged; today, his family is worth an estimated $13 billion. Coincidentally, that’s about the same amount that federal authorities estimate Sinaloa drug cartel chief Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán—currently on trial in New York City—earned over his infamous career. In a very real way, Sackler helped make El Chapo so wildly successful: By getting millions hooked on opioids in pill form, Sackler created a massive market for street heroin, which is far cheaper and easier to obtain. El Chapo will no doubt die in federal prison. Sackler, meanwhile, is enjoying semi-retirement from his family’s business, and his donations have given the Sackler name an honored place on museums throughout the world. The funerals for “the culprits” will continue.