The Billionaires Behind the OxyContin Boom

 

In 1996, OxyContin was nearly a $50 million business.

By 2002, sales hit $1.5 billion for the prescription painkiller. At a conservative worth of $14 billion, the Sackler family is now on the Forbes Top 20 List of America’s Richest Families. All thanks to the manufacturing of this drug and an aggressive marketing plan for one of the most infamous painkillers in the world. According to NIDA, prescription painkillers are the most commonly abused drug in the United States. This information is supported by the fact that four out of five drug addicts have admitted to using painkillers, like OxyContin, as their gateway drug to addiction. A disheartening fact is that almost fifty people die every day from overdosing on these prescriptions. But who is to blame for this OxyContin boom? The corporations producing the product, or the health care providers who write over 250 million prescriptions for painkillers each year? That’s enough for every American adult to have a bottle full of pills, by the way. In addition to excessive prescriptions, the Sackler’s success also stems from the Purdue Pharma corporation convincing the medical community that their drug was safe, thanks to its time-release properties, and suitable to prescribe for any and all pain. Purdue targeted physicians in the South, Appalachia, and the Rust Belt who were known for prescribing opioids (mainly primary care physicians who didn’t have training in pain management). In addition, Purdue had an advanced system of bonuses and incentives put in place for sales representatives. In 2001, $40 million in incentive bonuses were paid to its sales representatives. In 2007, a statistical misrepresentation cost Purdue Pharma $635 million in criminal fines. The company was forced to plead guilty to false marketing charges when The Department of Justice called out Pharma for coaching their sales representatives to lie regarding the potential for addiction to OxyContin by claiming addiction occurred in less than 1% of patients. Sackler family members were never charged. Years later, Purdue Pharma is still entangled in court cases. The state of Kentucky has also alleged false marketing against Purdue. A company spokesperson says Purdue Pharma denies any wrongdoing in this case due to lack of evidence linking them to any of the alleged harm.

Raymond Sackler, 94, is the last living co-founder of Purdue Pharma.

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