The Sackler family pays for their luxury billionaire lifestyle with blood money. They know it’s blood money. In fact, that’s the whole point of their wealth. In 1997, Richard Sackler, one of the founders of Purdue Pharma, wrote in an e-mail that he didn’t want the company to push back on the misconception that Oxycontin is weaker than morphine. Per Pacific Standard:
“It would be extremely dangerous at this early stage in the life of the product,” [Michael] Friedman wrote to Sackler, “to make physicians think the drug is stronger or equal to morphine…. We are well aware of the view held by many physicians that oxycodone [the active ingredient in OxyContin] is weaker than morphine. I do not plan to do anything about that.”
“I agree with you,” Sackler responded. “Is there a general agreement, or are there some holdouts?”
In 2007, Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty to criminal misdemeanors for not fully divulging the risk of addiction to their product, and paid $600 million in fines. In 2008, Richard Sackler told the company to “measure our performance by Rx’s by strength, giving higher measures to higher strengths,” meaning that he wanted to place a premium on selling high dosages of their most addictive product.
These are evil people. Full stop. They have clearly lost any sense of morality, as these decades of e-mails from a 2015 deposition prove beyond a shadow of a doubt. Because of efforts like this from Richard Sackler, for the first time in American history, we are now more likely to die from an opioid overdose than a car accident. Every 11 minutes, someone dies in America from an opioid overdose. In 2013, the United States accounted for 78% of the global consumption of Oxycontin. If ISIS had killed around 200,000 Americans in a span of 18 years, we would have already invaded every single Muslim country in the world, but because these senseless deaths are brought to us via capitalism, America just writes them off as the cost of doing business.
Although that may be changing. There is finally a tangible backlash against America’s least famous mass killers. Sackler money—long a feature of museums—is now being rejected. Plus, while the federal government has done very little, states are beginning to fight back. Over 500 cities and counties filed suit, accusing Purdue Pharma along with eight members of the Sackler family of racketeering and misleading marketing for their profitable overdose drug. A few days ago, Purdue and the Sacklers paid $270 million to the state of Oklahoma over a lawsuit stemming from their well-known deceptive practices.
Today, the state of New York upped the ante by filing a lawsuit that could potentially strip these companies of their licenses and bar them from marketing their product in our fourth most populous state.
The Sacklers are a stain on America. Not only did they knowingly fuel a crisis that has outpaced auto deaths as a central cause of death in this country, but they have contributed to our white supremacist politics by funding an anti-Muslim network. They embody everything that is wrong with this country, and them continuing to have both a billion-dollar death company and political power tells you all you need to know about America’s priorities.
This is an issue of capitalism, and yet another example of how capitalism has no moral center. Because we live in an economic system where profit, not economic value, is the primary concern, this type of situation is incentivized. Because capitalism needs more profits to sustain itself, the Sacklers are incentivized to push their most addictive product and lie about its dangers. If they are successful in doing so (which the 2015 deposition combined with the 200,000 deaths since 1999 proves they are), then that means that their most efficient path to make the most money goes through an Oxycontin graveyard. The logical conclusion of the capitalist rule of profits before all else leads us to a situation where companies are encouraged to do what the Sacklers and Purdue Pharma have done over the last few decades.
This is a crisis. Nearly 1.25 million people die from auto accidents each year, and the Sackler family has created a situation where dying from their product, or fentanyl—a crude, cheaper substitution for their product—is more likely than being killed in a car crash. Plus, this doesn’t describe the full depravity of the situation, given that overdose deaths are under-counted. The Sackler family has built an empire off of misery and pain, and if we lived in a just world, they would all be rotting in a jail cell by now. Instead, because America, the worst that will likely happen to the billionaire family is another million-dollar fine while escaping serious criminal liability, and maybe a rejection from a few more museums. As the Mueller Report proved yet again this week: it is impossible to prosecute powerful people in America for assaults on humanity. These crimes are just too profitable to punish.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.