A new report shows that dozens of nonprofit organizations took at least $100,000 from the family that founded the drug company Purdue Pharma. The Sackler family amassed billions of dollars since first initiating the opioid epidemic through their aggressive and deceptive marketing of OxyContin.
The narcotic painkiller produced $35 billion in sales revenue between 1995 and 2015, according to Forbes.
Nearly 200,000 Americans have died from overdosing on prescription opioids since 2000. All opioids — including Heroin and Fentanyl, whose users are typically first addicted to prescription painkillers — could kill nearly 500,000 more over the next decade, according to STAT News.
President Donald Trump declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency in October.
Forty-four nonprofit groups, ranging from prestigious art galleries and exhibits to research institutions, professorships, and education advocacy groups, have received nearly $81 million in donations from this family, known to be the opioid epidemic’s biggest profiteers, according to an investigation by the Daily Caller News Foundation.
“It’s blood money, it’s blood money,” Andrew Kolodny, Brandeis University’s co-director of the Opioid Policy Research Collaborative, told the DCNF. “I would hope the institutions that are taking Sackler money would begin to think about it and treat it in the same way they would a donation from [Colombian drug lord] Pablo Escobar.”
He added, “Thousands of lives have been lost for Purdue to make that money, so I would like to see some of these institutions take the Sackler name off the wall.”
The Sacklers’ fortune began to balloon when Purdue, the family’s privately-owned drug company, began convincing doctors that opioids were a safe and effective treatment for chronic pain. Cancer and terminal patients had been the only people to use such dangerously addictive painkillers prior to that.
“All opioid prescriptions started to go up in 1996 when Purdue introduced OxyContin because it was that year that they launched a multifaceted campaign focused on opioids as a class of drugs,” Kolodny explained. “The reason we are experiencing a severe epidemic of opioid addiction in the U.S. is the medical community started to prescribe aggressively.”
By 2010, one out of every five doctor visits resulted in an opioid prescription, and OxyContin made up one-third of all sales revenue from painkillers, according to The Los Angeles Times.
“What [Purdue] did that caused our epidemic was to change the way doctors thought about opioids as a class of drugs,” Kolodny said. “We know for the vast majority of patients with chronic pain, long-term use of opioids is not safe or even effective, and yet that’s been their target market from the beginning.”
The DCNF found that the Sacklers have never publicly donated to addiction rehabilitation centers and contributed just a few thousand dollars to local groups that may help treat overdoses. Their donations are primarily made to prestigious art galleries and other institutions that took on the family name after accepting their dirty money.
According to Mike Moore, a lawyer leading a lawsuit against Purdue: “Their great financial success caused more deaths than most of the wars this country has ever fought.”
He added, “From a positive perspective, I would hope the Sackler family would realize that their wonder drug did a lot of bad things across this country — whether some members of the extended family intended that or not — and then decide to do something positive to impact the opioid epidemic.”
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