Richard Sackler and the Sackler family may be the biggest mass murderers in U.S. history. They pushed the powerful opioid OxyContin beyond all reason after their company developed the drug. The death toll alone, in 2017, was 47,000, nearly the same number as those killed in Vietnam in 10 years.
Through it all, the deeply private Sacklers managed to stay out of the limelight. But if there was any doubt about their role in the crisis, John Oliver made it perfectly clear last night on HBO’s “Last Week Tonight.”
In fact, the Sacklers are so private, Oliver had to enlist actors Michael Keaton, Michael K. Williams, Bryan Cranston and Richard Kind to play Richard Sackler because so little is known about him.
Yeah, it was hilarious. But the opioid crisis isn’t.
Richard Sackler served as president of Perdue Pharma from 1999 to 2003, during the time Oxycontin was first aggressively marketed. But he wasn’t alone. Seven other family members served on the board.
Under his direction, the company zeroed in on doctors to push the drug, a tried-and-true company marketing practice.
It encouraged physicians to prescribe the opioid, using such perks as free trips to pain-management seminars and paid speaking engagements. Sales soared, according to The New York Times.
The same year 47,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses, the Sacklers were ranked 19th among “America’s richest families” by Forbes magazine. They’re worth an estimated $18 billion.
Through it all, the deeply private Sacklers managed to stay out of the limelight. If the Sackler Family is known at all, it’s for their association with some of the most prestigious museums and universities in the world.
They’ve generously donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, as well as The Louvre in Paris and the National Gallery in London.
But as the epidemic reached crisis proportions, a number of states started suing Purdue, revealing just how much the Sackler family fingerprints are all over the problem.
“Until very recently, they’ve been miraculously good at keeping their name off the opioid crisis,” said Oliver. “But all of that is now changing.”
The comedian rolled a clip of a demonstration last month at the Guggenheim Museum, protesting its association with the Sackler Family.
“Now, thanks to a number of law suits filed by various states, we’re getting a glimpse of the depth of Richard’s involvement,” he added.
Sackler even bragged that the launch of OxyContin would be followed by a “blizzard of prescriptions,” according to court papers. “The blizzard will be so, deep, dense and white,” he crowed.
What’s more, Sackler was keenly aware of the drug’s addictive properties.
“If OxyContin is uncontrolled, it is highly likely that it will eventually be abused… How substantially would it improve our sales?” he was quoted as saying in court papers.
Keaton, Cranston, Williams and Kind read other Sackler quotes from court documents that, in retrospect, are highly damning.
Indeed, the company has a long history of manipulating and ignoring safeguards to flood the market with the dangerously addictive drug.
In May 2007, for example, the company pleaded guilty to misleading the public about Oxycontin’s risk of addiction and agreed to pay a $600 million fine in one of the largest pharmaceutical settlements in U.S. history, according to USAToday. But that didn’t stop the flow of drugs.
As early as 1995, doctors were warning the company that OxyContin, also known as Oxycodone, was being abused. The company responded by providing false information to its sales reps, claiming the drug had less potential for addiction and abuse than other painkillers, according to news reports.
From 1996 to 2001, during Richard Sacker’s tenure as president, oxycodone-related deaths nationwide increased five-fold while the annual number of OxyContin prescriptions increased nearly 20-fold, according to a report by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
In 2002, the DEA said the drug caused 146 deaths and contributed to another 318, a mere drop in the bucket compared to what was to come.
Oliver went one step further; he put the family name on a website populated with more clips of the actors reading from those same documents. You can find it at SacklerGallery.com.
“They love having their names on fucking galleries,” Oliver noted dryly.
Check out the video below.