Last updated: December 4, 2023
There are many ways to make a fortune in the world. You can manufacture unique products, trade popular goods, dabble in real estate, and even invest in the stock market. Or, you could modify a popular painkiller and falsely market it as an addiction-proof drug, and reap incredible riches.
This is exactly what Purdue Pharma did in 1987, and it has brought unimaginable wealth to the three co-founders, brothers Arthur (died in 1987), Mortimer (died in 2010) and Raymond Sackler, as well as the entire Sackler clan.
In 2016, Forbes magazine ranked the Sackler clan as the 19th richest family in the United States, with a conservative net worth of $13 billion–significantly more than iconic families like the Mellon and Rockefeller clans.
How the Sacklers became so rich
The reason behind the wealth of the 20 surviving Sackler descendants is simple: the family owns 100% of Purdue Pharma L.P. The financial detail of the privately-held company is a closely-kept secret, but analysts estimate that the company generates revenues in excess of $3 billion annually.
Although the pharmaceutical company is also involved in research, development and sales of many other drugs such as Butrans, Dilaudid and Ryzolt, the bulk of its revenue comes from the sales of OxyContin. OxyContin is currently among the 20 most prescribed drugs in the country. Since its release in 1995, Purdue Pharma is believed to have sold over $33 billion worth of OxyContin in the United States alone. That’s right, 33 billion dollars! The numbers are astronomical and they are continuing to grow as more and more people turn to drugs like OxyContin for a variety of reasons.
What is OxyContin?
OxyContin is a painkiller made from the Papaver bracteatum plant, which is more commonly known as the Persian poppy. It is a derivate of Oxycodone, a semisynthetic painkiller first synthesized in Germany in 1916.
In 1995, Purdue Pharma introduced a controlled-released version of Oxycodone called Oxycodone Hydrochloride, and subsequently marketed it as OxyContin. The new drug is designed to manage medium to severe levels of pain by being gradually released over a 12-hour period.
It is classified as Schedule II drug under the Controlled Substance Act.
How can OxyContin be abused?
Like many painkillers, OxyContin can generate a sense of well-being and euphoria not unlike the sensations felt from consuming drugs such as morphine or cocaine. Within months of its release, people discovered that the time-released mechanism of OxyContin can be bypassed simply by crushing the capsules and snorting the powder, resulting in an almost instant high. Alternatively, the powder can also be mixed with water and injected into the bloodstream. Naturally, this made OxyContin popular among drug addicts, and has resulted in many instances of overdoses and deaths.
In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that OxyContin is one of the three most common drugs involved in cases of opioid overdose, and as many as 15,000 people die annually from opioid overdoses. In a separate report, Substance Abuse and Health Services Administration claimed abuse of OxyContin resulted in 182,748 visits to emergency rooms all across the nation. The numbers are staggering and the problem is starting to get more and more media attention.
The legal battle
Purdue Pharma has been repeatedly brought to task for the inherent dangers of OxyContin. In 2005, after a long trial, it pleaded guilty to charges of false marketing and paid a $635 million fine to the Justice Department. However, its status as a legal prescription drug remains strong. In fact, Purdue Pharma actually convinced the FDA of the enhanced safety measures it implemented for the drug through several cosmetic changes, including new labeling details.
In a time when small-time drug dealers can be sent to jail for life for selling minuscule amounts of drugs, the Sackler family remains free to continue profiteering from a drug that has been proven to cause the addiction and death of tens of thousands of Americans. Many people are surprised when they hear just how many overdoses and deaths are caused by a prescription drug. For some, drugs with names like cocaine and heroin are thought to be the cause of most (if not all) overdoses but that is simply not true. Now isn’t that something?
Combating the opiod epidemic in the workplace
Education is obviously the first, and most powerful step because many people simply don’t realize how dangerous OxyContin and other opiod pain killers can be. They mistakenly assume that since it’s prescribed by a doctor, it must be safe. Employers do have an effective tool to help keep opiod abuse out of the workplace though, and that is a comprehensive drug testing program which includes both pre employment and random drug testing.