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Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty

Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty

Patrick Radden Keefe


If there was ever a story that demonstrated one rule for the rich and another for the poor, this is it.

The Sackler dynasty has had a huge social prominence, with its name adorning university medical research institutes and wings of art galleries. The wealth all came from selling oxycontin, one of the most potent painkillers available and a boon to many with chronic pain. Their innovation was to own the company that developed a slow-release mechanism to allow a morphine derivative to be delivered orally. All this is a great service to humanity.

But... In Keefe's telling, the way oxycontin was sold made no attempt to ensure that it wasn't being over-prescribed or abused, and indeed targeted doctor and pharmacists who were clearly off-loading more pills that their communities could possibly need. And it's hard to believe that the company didn't know this, given that they'd also been early investors in medical information collection and analysis that could spot such patterns. The rest of the story degenerates into legal wranglings designed to keep the Sackler name out of any court decisions and away from personal blame.

It's a troubling history that taints what should have been a clear and welcome medical breakthrough by the search for enormous profits by any means.

5/5. Finished 16 October 2022.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

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