It’s not unreasonable to assume that you’ve never heard of the Sackler family. And, you might not have even heard of Purdue Pharma; the company the Sacklers started and still maintain control over today. But, it’s almost a sure bet that you’ve heard of OxyContin, and it’s increasingly likely that you either personally know someone who has been affected by the opioid crisis gripping the nation or have been affected yourself.
The Sacklers would like you to know that the crisis you and your loved ones are enduring is entirely your fault and, in their eyes, you are nothing but a common criminal.
Such was the revelation found in documents obtained as a result of a lawsuit filed against Purdue Pharma by the state of Massachusetts. The documents presented a treasure trove of information that shows, in no uncertain terms, that the company and the family sought to flood the country with powerful prescription opioids with no regard for the lives they would be impacting and, in some cases, ending.
It started with the 1996 launch party for OxyContin when a jubilant Dr. Richard Sackler asked the attendees to think about natural disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes, and blizzards. OxyContin’s release to the market, he proclaimed, “will be followed by a blizzard of prescriptions that will bury the competition.”
He was right. In fact, he was so right that questions were being asked about OxyContin’s potential for abuse, addiction, and overdose just five years later. For Sackler, the strategy was clear – shift the blame to the addicts. “We have to hammer on the abusers in every way possible,” he wrote in a February 2001 email. “They are the culprits and the problem. They are reckless criminals.”
The Sackler quotes are merely the tip of the iceberg in the Massachusetts suit and supporting evidence shows a company led by an executive obsessed with making every possible sale, regardless of what that meant, how it was done, or who was destroyed in the process. Sackler’s behavior became so obsessive that other executives were asked to intervene to reduce his role and put some distance between him and the sales teams. “Anything you can do to reduce the direct contacts of Richard [Sackler] into the organization is appreciated,” wrote then-VP of sales and marketing Russell Gasdia to Purdue’s CEO.
The lawsuit notes that Purdue Pharma has sold over 70 million doses of opioids in Massachusetts, a state with a population of 6.86 million, since 2007.