A  user addicted to heroin shoots up on February 6, 2014 in Vermont. As prescription painkillers, such as the synthetic opiate OxyContin, become increasingly expensive and regulated, more and more Americans are turning to heroin to fight pain or to get high.

A user addicted to heroin shoots up on February 6, 2014 in Vermont. As prescription painkillers, such as the synthetic opiate OxyContin, become increasingly expensive and regulated, more and more Americans are turning to heroin to fight pain or to get high.

The Sackler family has made billions of dollars off of a drug called OxyContin.

OxyContin is a prescription pain management drug.

From The New Yorker

The bulk of the Sacklers’ fortune has been accumulated only in recent decades, yet the source of their wealth is to most people as obscure as that of the robber barons. While the Sacklers are interviewed regularly on the subject of their generosity, they almost never speak publicly about the family business, Purdue Pharma—a privately held company, based in Stamford, Connecticut, that developed the prescription painkiller OxyContin. Upon its release, in 1995, OxyContin was hailed as a medical breakthrough, a long-lasting narcotic that could help patients suffering from moderate to severe pain. The drug became a blockbuster, and has reportedly generated some thirty-five billion dollars in revenue for Purdue.

But OxyContin is a controversial drug. Its sole active ingredient is oxycodone, a chemical cousin of heroin which is up to twice as powerful as morphine. In the past, doctors had been reluctant to prescribe strong opioids—as synthetic drugs derived from opium are known—except for acute cancer pain and end-of-life palliative care, because of a long-standing, and well-founded, fear about the addictive properties of these drugs. “Few drugs are as dangerous as the opioids,” David Kessler, the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, told me.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports “from 1999 to 2016, more than 200,000 people died in the United States from overdoses related to prescription opioids. Overdose deaths involving prescription opioids were five times higher in 2016 than in 1999.”

The Financial Times was the first to report that Richard Sackler was listed as an inventor on an opioid-addiction treatment drug that was granted a patent back in January.

What responsibilities do private companies have in fixing the problems they effectively helped cause?

Produced by Morgan Givens. Text by Gabrielle Healy.

Guests

  • Barry Meier Former staff reporter and Pulitzer Prize winner, The New York Times; two-time winner of the George Polk Award; author of "Pain Killer: An Empire of Deceit and the Origin of America's Opioid Epidemic"; @BarryMeier
  • David Crow Senior US business correspondent, Financial Times; @bydavidcrow

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