If you’ve ever been to a famous art museum or glanced around a prestigious university, you’ve probably seen a wing or building named after a member of the Sackler family. But many may not know that the family’s fortune comes from selling pharmaceuticals—most notably OxyContin, the addictive painkiller at the center of America’s opioid epidemic.
A new profile in Esquire chronicles the life and business practices of Arthur, Mortimer and Raymond Sackler, three brothers from a Jewish immigrant family who built a medical empire. Their descendants privately own Purdue Pharma, which was instrumental in using lobbying and advanced marketing techniques to convince doctors of the need to manage patients’ pain—and then prescribe OxyContin to manage it.
As OxyContin use ballooned in the 1990s and 2000s, so did addiction. Journalist Christopher Glazek noted that under the direction of Richard Sackler, Raymond’s son, “Purdue responded [to criticism] with symbolic concessions while retaining its volume-driven business model. To prevent addicts from forging prescriptions, the company gave doctors tamper-resistant prescription pads; to mollify pharmacists worried about robberies, Purdue offered to replace, free of charge, any stolen drugs.”
In 2007, Purdue was fined $600 million by the federal government for lying to doctors about the potential for patients to abuse OxyContin. No members of the Sackler family were named in the case.