While the opioid epidemic sweeps across America destroying lives, there is one family that has reportedly reaped billions from the highly-addictive opioid OxyContin.
A new report by Esquire magazine writer Christopher Glazek says the Sackler family built a large part of its $14-billion dollar fortune on OxyContin “the narcotic painkiller regarded by many public-health experts as among the most dangerous products ever sold on a mass scale.”
Glazek notes that the Sackler family owns Purdue Pharma, which “was the first to achieve a dominant share of the market for long-acting opioids, accounting for more than half of prescriptions by 2001.”
Glazek told Democracy Now how the Sackler family, who never put their name on their drug company or products, got into the painkiller business and transformed a cancer pain relief pill into OxyContin:
Then they got into the pain business, and that’s when the real money started flowing in. And they developed—you know, so the kind of company lore is that there was a doctor in London—because some of the family members moved to London—and who was associated with the hospice movement.
And they said, “You have a time-release asthma pill that isn’t really selling very much. What if you made a time-release morphine pill?” And they said, “You know, we have these hospice patients who have these IVs, and it’s hard to give them enough pain medication to sleep through the night.” And so, he said, you know, “A time-release morphine pill could really be transformational.”
So they made this, and it came out in the United States in 1984 as MS-Contint, which is kind of the predecessor of OxyContin. And it was targeted exclusively at the cancer market. And really, it was an amazing drug. It helped cancer patients sleep through the night without needing to redose. And, you know, addiction didn’t matter if you’re a terminal cancer patient.
There was a problem with MS-Contin: Its patent was going to expire in the ’90s, and the company didn’t have anything to replace, and that was really the company’s, you know, golden goose. So, basically, younger relatives of Arthur’s at the company, other executives at the company were brainstorming: What can we do about MS-Contin having its patent expire?
And they said, “Well, what if we created a new time-release pain pill, but we don’t use morphine, we use another derivative of the poppy plant, oxycodone, and we create a time-release oxycodone pill, and instead of marketing it to cancer patients, we market it to 30 million back pain patients, we market it to people with menstrual problems, we market it to people with toothaches?
So, what if we take this powerful drug that we know works for this one purpose, but then kind of give it to everybody?” And that was the billion-dollar idea, the $14 billion idea, that gave the Sacklers what is likely the largest fortune in pharmaceutical history.