The Sacklers Destroyed My Family
On November 24, 2020, an alert popped up on my phone. Purdue Pharmaceuticals had pled guilty to federal criminal charges with an $8.3 billion settlement. The dollar amount seemed significant, but when I dug a bit further, I learned the Sackler family, who owns Purdue and has been accused of causing the opioid abuse crisis by marketing OxyContin as safe and nonaddictive, has so far escaped with no criminal charges. The vast majority of their wealth—as one of the world’s richest families—remains intact.
I have followed the Sacklers for years, tracking the lawsuits against them as mine suffered from opiate abuse. In 2017, I read “The Family That Built an Empire of Pain,” Patrick Radden Keefe’s longform piece in The New Yorker on the role the Sackler family played in addicting millions of Americans. Keefe lays out an unprecedented wave of criminal activity Purdue began in the early 1990s, using kickbacks and fraudulent marketing to saturate the market with its products.
Around the time Purdue’s marketing campaign was picking up steam, a doctor wrote my mother a prescription for opioids. She has been addicted, on and off, ever since. I cannot prove it, but I strongly suspect the doctor who wrote my mother that prescription—and the subsequent doctors who renewed it or wrote new ones—were influenced by Purdue’s corrupt, illegal marketing. Purdue’s reach extended past the doctor’s office and the prescribing pad: To this day, my mother believes the lies Purdue told her doctors and repeats them as articles of faith.
Not one member of the Sackler family has ever faced criminal charges for their role in opiate epidemic. Under the latest settlement with the Department of Justice, the Sacklers were not even required to testify under oath, protecting the full extent of their crimes from public view. The Trump Administration’s Justice Department charged no one—not one single person—with the felonies Purdue Pharmaceuticals committed. Corporations are not only people in this country, but when convenient, apparently employ no one who can be held responsible for their misdeeds. The Sackler family name will remain on the Met and on the halls of the Ivy League institutions I clawed my way into all those years ago, while families like mine will have no justice.