The Family That Profited From the Opioid Crisis
From the New York Times. This is the daily. Today. The family that built its fortune on Oxycontin has never been held legally accountable for the opioid epidemic that the drug helped unleash berry mind on why that may soon change. It's Friday March fifteenth. Turn the Guggenheim is one of this country's and certainly New York's premier museums beautiful museum of spiral shape structure that houses Amman art collection and in late February a group of individuals, enter the museum was the particular night where entrance was free, and they they walked up the spiral structure, and they took positions there. Hundred. He predetermined point. They released thousands of small sheets of paper. That looked like the type of prescriptions that doctor would give you. They were prescriptions for the drug Oxycontin. Oxycontin is one of the most powerful and potentially addicting painkiller ever produced by the pharmaceutical industry, and when these papers fluttered down through the air, they looked like a snow blizzard that settled on the floor. And then a banner was released that said shame on Sackler. So what exactly is this group protesting who is Sackler? Well, the Sackler name is best known as family that are beneficiaries of the arts. Their name is tied to the Guggenheim. The American Museum of natural history and natural pilot museum in New York and the Tate and London and as benefactors of medical schools. The Sackler name is plastered on institutes or schools of medicine at Cornell Columbia tufts, George, Washington, McGill and Tel Aviv university's. They're also one of this country's most secretive families and part of their secretiveness comes from the fact that their fortune has been made from the sale of Oxycontin, the Sackler family owns Perdue pharma and their main drug Oxycontin has made them tens of billions of dollars since it was introduced in the nineteen nineties actually contents at the center of a national opioid epidemic. That's killed an estimated three hundred thousand people. Since the late nineties now protesters along with some state officials and plaintiff's lawyers believe that the Sackler family should start paying the price for some of the havoc that the aggressive and over marketing of this drug produced, and why are these protesters going after the Sackler family right now in particular, there has been a almost two decade history of lawsuits against Purdue pharma as well as other drug companies. But it's only just now that lawsuits are being filed against members of the Sackler family in particular one was filed recently by the state of Massachusetts. A Massachusetts lawsuit is the first name some produce farmers owners, eight members of the Sackler family and other executives claiming they participated in a deadly any legal scheme as a result of this lawsuit and the sort of Pretre. Filed discovery that's going on. There are new documents. That are starting to come to public light, which really are showing for the first time the apparent depth of involvement of Sackler family members in the operations of produce pharma. And what exactly do these documents say that as actors new or did when it came to Oxycontin and opiates really up until this time, the company in the Sackler have been very successful in creating what really is apparently Mirage that this family while owning the company or sort of hands off, and they were not involved in the day to day operations. They did not make significant decisions with respect to how the drug was marketed or sold, and they were shielded from all the nasty business related to the addiction and abuse that was occurring around the drug. But what the documents that are emerging? Now are starting to show is that the Sackler micromanaged this company. They obsessed over issues like how many sales representatives should be out there promoting Oxycontin to doctors. How many times those sales Representative should go to particular doctor because they were doing studies that showed the more you send to a doctor the more they prescribed. They were determining apparently the criteria for how sales people would be compensated putting a premium on getting sales representatives to sell the highest dosages of this drug, and as we know the highest dosages of any opioid poses the greatest risk of potential addiction to patient and other really serious side effects. I mean, there was even an Email written. That's come to light by Dr. Richard Sackler who is the son of one of the founders of producer armor and the company's one time president that suggests that he told the company in two thousand eight that we are going to major our performance by prescriptions by strength giving higher measures to hire strings. So what you're laying out here is not just a family that is involved, but family that is intimately involved with the minute. Details of how opioids could be systematically prescribe in in the sense over prescribed. This was a family that was certainly gets impression from these documents. That was not only counting every pill that was being sold. But making sure that every pill that was so was the highest strength of that pill because it would bring in the highest amount of. Dollars. And what we know is that the Sackler family was apparently made aware of the abuse of Oxycontin, not long after the drug. I came onto the market which was one which was nineteen Ninety-six will before the company publicly acknowledged that abuse in two thousand and there was a view within produce pharma that all the problems associated with this drug where due to the bad people who are abusing it. And what we know from these documents is that in two thousand one very early in the opioid epidemic. Richard Sackler road in an Email. That is cited in this Massachusetts law suit. He said, quote, we have to hammer on abusers in every possible way. Way. They are the culprits and the problem, they are reckless criminals. So what this member of the Sackler family is saying is there should be a strategy a public relations strategy of attacking people who become addicted to oxygen. That's right. And in that same year two thousand and one there began to be a number public reports about overdose deaths involving Oxycontin and in one specific report. There was a citation that there were fifty nine overdose deaths involving Oxycontin in one particular stink. And again, Richard Sackler? When he saw that report had very curious response. Which was what he wrote? This is not too bad. It could have been for worse. More deaths. More problems. For correct for the company. Correct severe when you get your hands on these documents, and you read them over and you process them what is going through your head about the aquifers. It's a funny thing, Michael I have covered the story for almost two decades. And there've been many times over these two decades where I thought I knew the story, and when documents like this appear it jolts me, and in many ways, it reminds me very much of a of an industry I covered in the late nineteen nineties for the times. This was another industry that thought that it would never be held to account, and I got to cover that accounting. Right back. Used to be hard multiple job sites. Decks resumes. But today hiring can be easy. And you only have to go to one place to get it done. Ziprecruiter. Ziprecruiter is so effective that eighty percent of employers who post on ZipRecruiter get a quality candidate through the site within the first day and right now listeners contries it for or for free at this exclusive web address ZipRecruiter dot com slash daily. That's ZipRecruiter dot com slash D. I L Y. Ziprecruiter, the smartest way to hire. Buried Tillis what was going on in the nineteen nineties that reminded you of the sack lers. There's one particular episode that was striking. There's a professor at the university of California. San Francisco Dr stand glands and one day there is a cardboard box that suddenly arrives in his office. The return address on the box has the name Mr. butts, which was the famous Garry Trudeau cartoon character of cigarette. You know, representing the cigarette industry. Sakina tobacco industry target kids. Gotta love them. Even though I'm constantly on the go. Dr glands open the box. What he finds inside of. It is a troll of what are essentially stolen documents. Documents that have been taken out of a law firm that represents one of the world's biggest cigarette manufacturers Brown and Williamson and within this box are dozens of internal memorandum and records showing that this company and other cigarette makers knew that their products were killing their customers. I'd like you to rise and those who will be testifying as well. Not long before these documents appeared the executives of all the major cigarette companies had been called to congress, and there's this very iconic photographs that exists we're all of them stand up at the witness table and are sworn in and they hold up there. Right. The testimony are about to give is the truth the whole truth and nothing, but the truth. Please consider yourself to be under oath and one by one. They were all asked a question to the effect of to your knowledge are cigarettes. Addictive. Give leave nicotine is not addictive. I believe nicotine is not addictive. Yes. Mr johnston. Congressman cigarettes and nicotine, clearly do not meet the classic definitions of the dictionaries. No talk. And one by one each of them said, no, I don't believe that nicotine or our products were dick. No. No, I the nicotine not. No. So these executives testified to congress that they did not believe cigarettes were addictive shortly before the professor received a box of documents showing that the executive in fact, did no they were harmful to people that is right. What do we know about who sent these documents? It was a paralegal at the law firm that represented Brown Williamson. And the reason is often the reason why documents like this come to light someone decides that they want the public to know the truth, and it wasn't just Dr glands that got these documents a reporter at the times named Phil hilts got them as well. And the times broke the story. What was the reaction from the public to the revelation of these documents? It was a shock. Probably twenty five to thirty documents. We'll be the most incriminating documents ever in the history of tobacco litigation. These documents. You see that we were never supposed to find out about each showed that the industry have been consciously lying to the public for decades. And decades documents from one company Brown and Williamson show the tobacco industry knew the addictive and cancer causing impact of cigarette smoking for thirty years. This was a defining moment for the tobacco industry. They're not driven out of business. But there is a su- NAMI of losses. Remember the date the twentieth of June nineteen ninety seven it was on this day that the attorneys general more than forty states said in Washington that they had finally beaten the tobacco industry into submission as the first state to sue big tobacco. It was only fitting today that Mississippi become the first to get paid taxes. Attorney General Dan Morales presented his settlement with tobacco giants with triumph. Minnesota becomes the fourth state several with tobacco industry over the costs of smoking related illnesses lawsuits that eventually forced the industry not only to pay out hundreds of millions of dollars. But to publicly acknowledge that they've been lying to the public. And as part of the settlement of all these lawsuits. The cigarette makers agreed to end the public advertising of cigarettes on billboards and in other media, be newspapers or magazines. I can remember doing story for the times about the last cigarette billboard. And I mean, they were ubiquitous in the United States at one time. So you had essentially total cultural shift in how're product was sold in how a product was perceived. Berry. It's easy to see the parallels between the Brandon Williams documents that you're referring to and the produce pharma documents that were starting to lay our eyes on do you think that we're in a similar moment for the sack layers as we were in the nineties when these tobacco documents came out. It's very interesting, Michael. Because in the history of the story of every controversial product be it as best does or tobacco or narcotic painkillers. They tend to follow the same arc the manufacturers. The industry is successful for years or decades in protecting itself. They hire the best lawyers. They hire lobbyists. They're able to deflect defend all the attacks against them. And in the process, they also become arrogant. They think they're invulnerable. They think this reckoning is never going to happen. And ultimately, there's a crack and through that crack the truth starts seeping through. And I think that in the case of the Sackler family that is beginning to happen. Now, this is their tobacco moment. This. Is their moment of recognizing they claim that the documents that have emerged paints a unfair pitcher, but they've been cherry picked to vilify them. But Purdue pharma is free to release all the documents. It wants if it wants the full story to be out there that is in the power of the Sackler family. And the Sackler family has chosen not to do. So. The documents that you have been referring to throughout our conversation. I'm realizing that they are in some cases seventeen eighteen years old two thousand two thousand one. Why are they just coming out? Well, one of the most troubling aspects of the story, Michael is the fact that. Public officials bear responsibility for the opioid epidemic. Mean the first investigations of produce date back to two thousand but time after time to settle these lawsuits against Purdue pharma, Purdue paid public officials money settlement funds and in exchange. These officials who represent us agreed to consign these emails to consign these documents to secrecy as the price of settlement. So these public officials allowed the Sackler as owners of Purdue to buy a kind of collective silence around their culpability. They joined in that collective silence. They didn't just allow the Sackler is to buy it. They became parties to it. And it's my belief that had these documents come to light if these. Officials truly acted in the public's interest that the trajectory of this epidemic would have changed drastically. And it would not have evolved into the public catastrophe that it has become and it's only when these documents are seen by the public, and that there's an outcry over them like there was at the Guggenheim with this blizzard of fake prescriptions that these public officials are motivated to really do something to stop. What's happening? That's right. And ultimately, it's my hope that all these documents will become public and that we will know the history of the opioid epidemic. Much in the same way that we know the history of the tobacco problem now. We need documents Perry. We're talking about one family this actors and one company produced Armagh if the Sackler families time running this company and the power that they have begins to fall apart. Where does that leave the rest of the opioid industry? Isn't it very possible that another pharmaceutical company will come along, and we'll take its place. We'll sell another version of Oxycontin, there's a huge market for it. And potentially lots of money to be made when we'd like to think that doctors have learned their lesson. One might be naive to think that. But I believe that there has been a change in the overall medical view in the value of Ochowicz. I think doctors have come to a realization that these drugs do have serious consequences. What difference will it make? If the Sackler is fall by the wayside. That's a good question. What is important along with the price? They pay the financial price they pay which to them probably will be minimal given their fortune. Is that the truth about them will come out? So that when you are I walked past a museum like Guggenheim and see the Sackler name or a young idealistic medical student walks into a medical school and sees the name Sackler on that building. We will know with these people are we will know them for the life. They live and the values that they. Embraced on the drug this old and the drug that they so. Yes. Barry. Thank you. Very very much for this. We appreciate it. Michael. It's always a pleasure. The times reports that in a newly disclosed deposition, Richard Sackler Peterle gave testimony about Oxycontin that appears to contradict evidence found by the department of Justice in one case Sakr claimed under oath that he first learned Oxycontin was being abused in two thousand despite an Email which shows he was warned a year earlier Purdue pharma had fought the public release of the twenty fifteen deposition which had called quote regrettable. Meanwhile, the consequences for the Sackler continues to grow last week, a major hedge fund said it would no longer manage the family's money as it has for years because it was uncomfortable with the Sackler is role in the opioid crisis. Here's what else you need to on Thursday. The Senate voted via wide March to overturn President Trump's declaration of national emergency at the southern border in a rare bipartisan rebuke of his domestic agenda that is expected to trigger. The president's first veto never before has a president ask for funding. The congress has not provided and then the president has used the national emergencies act of nineteen seventy six to spend the money anyway, mom acres in both parties characterized the emergency declaration as a clear case of executive overreach designed to circle vent congress to finance his border wall. The problem with this is that after a revolutionary war against king. Our nation's founders gave to congress congress elected by the people the power to approve. All spending. So that the president would not have too much power. This check on the executive is a source of our freedom. The Republicans who broke with Trump said they feared that supporting this national Amercians, which they called unwarranted would lay the groundwork for future democratic presidents to deploy the same tactic to work around congress in pursuit of their own agenda. And today's decision by the Connecticut supreme court. We would all say was a long time in coming in a major win for advocates of gun control. The Connecticut supreme court ruled that the families of those killed in the sandy hook massacre are allowed to sue the manufacturers of the rifle used in the shooting. The ruling allows the families to work around a federal law. It has long shielded gun makers from loss when their weapons are used in a crime, creating a potential opening for a wave of similar legal actions seeking to hold. Gun makers liable for shooting today. The court essentially has said something that is a very basic principle, which is that nobody's above the law. Nobody is above the law. That's really the takeaway from the decision. The case revolves around marketing materials used by Remington, the manufacturer of the rifle used in the sandy hook shooting marketing, bidding -cluded, the motto consider your man card. Bree issue. This is not the type of use that is constructive to public safety. There are the images that promote the masculinity of the weapon that is meant to be conferred by simply buying an a r fifteen lawyers for the families argued that such messages represent a deliberate appeal to troubled young men like Adam lands the twenty who carried out the massacre. You can't engage in reckless marketing that does nothing to address. A problem. But only contributes to it. The daily is produced by feel Valk Lindsey garrison. Rachel Wester any Brown, Andy mills, I Colorado. Claire tennis scattered Michael Simon Johnson. Jessica Chung, Alexandra Lee young and Jonathan wolf and edited by page. Cowan LaRussa Anderson and Wendy door. Lisa Tobin is our executive producer. Samantha Hennig is our editors director our technical manager. Is Brad Fischer? Our engineer is Chris would. And our theme music is by Jim Bromberg, and Ben lands of Wunderle. Special thanks to Sam dome. Maceio Bouchard and Stella tan. That's it for the daily. I'm Michael Barr. See you on Monday. Hey, I'm I'm the host of the special a new podcast about what makes some of America's most interesting cities so special like how the newest residents of Minneapolis influenced traditional cooking. There's a lot of ways to make money every person will tell you their way is the correct, of course, my ways the correct way of making. That's the special with me, man. You know?