One of the reasons I got this book though was that Patrick Radden Keefe wrote the fabulous book, Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland (2018).
Empire of Pain:The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty
by Patrick Radden Keefe
2021 (560 pps hardcover)
Read by author 18h 6m
Rating: 9 / current events
It would be hard not to have heard about the Sackler family and their “miracle drug,” Oxycontin, which partly drove the opioid epidemic in the US. Opioids have been around for centuries, but to develop “timed release capsules” and then to hire a huge well-trained and incentivized sales force to market them was rather new. No, it wasn’t against the law and the company went through the motions of developing and distributing a remedy for acute pain, but they did a few extra-legal things, too. And what was sold as a non-addictive pain remedy pushed a lot of people into active addiction to morphine while enriching the family which was behind it.
And the Sackler family got very, very rich. They got so rich they got their name put on many colleges and art museums and actually opened wings at others. Did they know what was going on? How could they help but know? But denial is a tricky thing and just like an addict will deny he’s addicted, the Sacklers denied any wrong doing and any harmful qualities in their product. Kathe couldn’t think of anything she would do differently knowing what she did at the time while Richard denied everything all the way to the bank. (“People are responsible for their own behaviors and there are consequences.”)
Empire of Pain is about the Sackler family and the involvement of their company, Purdue Pharma, in the epidemic of opiod abuse which has run rampant through the US starting in 1999.
The book outlines the family history from its beginnings as immigrant Polish and Ukrainian Jewish children to New York in the early 20th century. Three boys were sent to good colleges to become doctors and the boys worked their way up, too. And these boys got as addicted to the money and what it would buy as the addicts got to their drugs.
It’s a good book. Not as good as Say Nothing but almost to that level. Keefe is an has done some excellent research and he’s given us the sources. Then in the Acknowledgments section he expands on his source work. This was also true of Say Nothing.
Still, I have issues. To my thinking, Keefe is a bit loose with blame. Their father, Isaac Sackler, told them the only real thing of value they have is their name. They apparently didn’t heed his advice. Of the original Sackler brothers none is innocent if you consider Arthur’s involvement with advertising. Arthur died prior to Oxycontin even being thought of and Mortimer and Raymond seemed to have some scruples once in awhile, at least at first. But Richard, Raymond’s son, just pushed ahead with his job of, as he said, “making the family richer.” And he defended their right to the money by any means necessary. So instead of being what I think could have been an even-handed investigation of the Oxycontin scandals which drove the morphine-based pain killer epidemic, it fell into sensationalism and knee-jerk finger-pointing. But if that’s what you’re interested in reading it’s great for that (And I did give it a 9.)
Second issue is that I don’ think it’s a good idea for an author to read his own books. Although I’ve read some good author-as-reader books, this isn’t one of them.
Empire of Pain: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empire_of_Pain