The Sackler Family. Ring a bell? With a huge cultural footprint around the world, this family owns a wing at the Louvre in Paris, and another wing at The Met in New York. They additionally own facilities at the University of Oxford and a dozen other universities.
However, while rich in wealth, billionaire Richard Sackler and his family’s claim to fame is their company, Purdue Pharma – the company that has been widely blamed to help create the opioid epidemic through their marketing of the notorious and deadly painkiller, Oxycontin.
One In Five Americans
In a recent post by the Financial Times, it reported that Sackler patented a new drug earlier this year that is a form of buprenorphine a drug otherwise known as Suboxone – a mild opioid that is used to ease withdrawal symptoms. However, some are expressing outrage that the Sacklers, who have in essence profited from opioid addiction, may soon be profiting from the opioid antagonist.
The patent makes no mention of Purdue Pharma’s connection to the epidemic, and the billion dollar company has been sued more than a thousand times for fueling the opioid crisis, now so pervasive that one in five Americans know someone who is addicted. Read the full patent, here
“A Deadly Deceptive Scheme To Sell Opioids”
In June, the Massachusetts attorney-general filed a lawsuit against Dr. Sackler and seven other members of the Sackler family, which accused them of engaging in a “deadly, deceptive scheme to sell opioids”. Purdue and the family deny the allegations and the company said it plans to file a motion to dismiss the claim. The company points out that OxyContin was, and still is, approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.
However, Purdue Pharma denied the accusations in a statement to The Washington Post, saying that although it shares “the state’s concern about the opioid crisis,” it did not mislead health-care providers about prescription opioids.
“The state claims Purdue acted improperly by communicating with prescribers about scientific and medical information that FDA has expressly considered and continues to approve,” a spokesman for Purdue Pharma said in the statement. “We believe it is inappropriate for the state to substitute its judgment for the judgment of the regulatory, scientific and medical experts at FDA.”
Creating The Epidemic
Before the opioid crisis, the Sackler family was primarily known for its philanthropy, emerging as one of the largest donors to arts institutions in the US and UK. But the rising number of addictions and deaths has highlighted the family’s ownership of Purdue, which some members have tried to shy away from.
In federal court in 2007, three top current and former employees for Purdue pleaded guilty to criminal charges, admitting that they had falsely led doctors and their patients to believe that OxyContin was less likely to be abused than other drugs in its class, according to the New York Times. Then earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal reported that Purdue planned to stop promoting the drug.
Benefiting From The Addiction Crisis
However, Sackler’s involvement in the new patent has drawn criticism because the patent could help Sackler to benefit financially from the addiction crisis that his family’s company is accused of fueling.
“It’s reprehensible what Purdue Pharma has done to our public health,” Luke Nasta, director of Camelot, a New York-based treatment center for drug and alcohol addiction, told the Financial Times. He told the newspaper that the Sackler family “shouldn’t be allowed to peddle any more synthetic opiates — and that includes opioid substitutes.”
This isn’t the first time Purdue Pharma has tried to grab market share on opioid addiction treatment. In 2017, Purdue sponsored an app study to see if tracking pain and addiction with an iPhone could lead to better understanding and treatment from physicians.
The new patented treatment could be part of the larger effort that Purdue Pharma has been making to combat the opioid epidemic. The company has promised to stop marketing OxyContin, train emergency responders, and fund anti-addiction campaigns, however they still remain conflicted on several fronts as numerous states have filed lawsuits against the Massachusetts-based company.