How did one family become associated with an epidemic of drug addiction that has caused the death of almost half a million people?
The Sackler name adorns the walls of many hallowed institutions – Harvard and Oxford Universities, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Louvre. But the source of the family’s wealth has become an international scandal. They are the main owners of Purdue Pharma, a pharmaceutical company responsible for making and marketing the addictive opioid OxyContin. The drug, which is a powerful painkiller stronger than morphine, was launched in 1996 and falsely marketed as less addictive than generic medication. By 2004 OxyContin had become a leading drug of abuse in the United States and continued to be pushed on patients by doctors who were offered financial incentives by Purdue to prescribe it. In the last two decades 450,000 people have died as a result of opioid overdoses in the United States alone.
The story rumbles on today. In September 2021 Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family agreed to pay a $4.5 billion settlement in exchange for legal immunity from any further legal action related to their role in the epidemic. In October 2021, award-winning writer and author of Empire of Pain, Patrick Radden Keefe, came to Intelligence Squared. In conversation with Hannah Kuchler, the FT’s global pharmaceutical correspondent, Keefe related how he uncovered fresh material on the Sacklers and discovered a modern parable of greed, corruption and flawed philanthropy.
Speakers subject to change.