America is facing an unprecedented public health crisis— opioid addiction and the subsequent loss of many lives. The prescription drug OxyContin has been attributed to many of these deaths. Amazingly, however, little is known about the proprietors of OxyContin— the Sackler family. Their secret? Calculated and lavish acts of philanthropy.
America’s Opioid Crisis: a Public Health Issue of Epic Proportions
A recent article published in the New York Times described America’s opioid drug crisis as a ‘50-state epidemic’ and ‘the worst drug crisis in American history’.
In 2015, 33,000 Americans from all parts of the nation lost their lives as a result of opioid addiction. In that same year, deaths resulting from opioid abuse almost equalled the total number of deaths resulting from car accidents. According to Vox, drug overdoses killed more people in 2015 than HIV/AIDS at its 1995 peak.
The Rise and Influence of Prescription Opioids
Rather disturbingly, prescription drugs are at the forefront of the nation’s opioid crisis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a little under half of all opioid related deaths involved prescription drugs. One of those drugs is OxyContin (oxycodone).
The Guardian reports that prescriptions for OxyContin have continued to rise significantly. In a six-year period from 1996 to 2002 for example, prescriptions issued for OxyContin rose from 670,000 per year to more than 6 million. In 2012, US physicians wrote 259 million prescriptions for opioid painkillers.
OxyContin, Purdue Pharma and the Sackler Family
In light of the foregoing, many are pointing the finger at OxyContin’s manufacturer, Purdue Pharma. Their aggressive and somewhat misleading marketing strategies have also been called into question. And understandably so; we’re talking about a company that in 2007, as reported by CNBC, was ordered to pay $634.5 million in fines for erroneously claiming that OxyContin was less addictive and less subject to abuse than other pain medications.
Fast forward to 2017. The company is again under investigation for allegedly misleading consumers about some of OxyContin’s pain relieving credentials and its low propensity to encourage abuse and addiction.
According to Forbes, Purdue Pharma is 100 percent owned by the Sackler family. Rather ironically, in 2015, the very year that 33,000 Americans lost their lives to opioid addiction, the Sackler family entered the Forbes 2015 list of America’s Richest Families, boasting the 16th largest fortune in the US.
One can only marvel at how the association between the Sackler family name, OxyContin and America’s opioid crisis, seemingly escapes public notice, let alone scrutiny. The secret lies in calculated and lavish acts of philanthropy.
Arthur Sackler, the family’s patriarch.
The ‘Smoke Screen’ of Philanthropy
The Sackler Courtyard at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum is stunning. According to Esquire.com, the space is ordained with eleven thousand white porcelain tiles; a site so captivating, even the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, was blown away. Wait until she sees the Sackler wing at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Sackler wings at the Louvre and the Royal Academy, the stand-alone Sackler museums at Harvard and Peking Universities, or the Sackler Center at New York’s Guggenheim Museum, to name a few.
The Sackler’s plentiful philanthropic acts have elicited praise from many decorated academics. Commendation has also radiated from many public servants and politicians in the form of prestigious accolades. Raymond Sackler, for example, received a British knighthood, was made an Officer of France’s Légion d’Honneur, and was accorded one of the highest possible honors from the royal house of the Netherlands.
When speaking with Esquire, Keith Humphreys, Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine, said, “The Sacklers have hidden their connection to their product. They don’t call it ‘Sackler Pharma.’ They don’t call their pills ‘Sackler pills.’” Indeed, with sweeping acts of philanthropy, the Sackler family has successfully hidden their association with OxyContin and America’s opioid crisis from public view.
Hiding this link is nothing short of a PR miracle.
In 1974, the Sackler brothers gave $3.5 million to the MET to erect the Temple of Dendur.