Opioid addiction is the leading public health crisis facing the United States today, and it represents the leading cause of death among people under the age of 50. While the cause is multi-faceted, there are powerful and influential forces at work that have propelled it to the status of an epidemic. Enter the Sackler family, the owners of the pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma which produces OxyContin. This hard-hitting documentary exposes their culpability in perpetuating this crisis.
The family has enjoyed nearly immeasurable windfalls of profits from pain. When a patient suffered a traumatic injury or a debilitating condition that resulted in chronic pain, medications like OxyContin and its substitutes promised to enable a more comfortable and productive quality of life. Obscured from view were the grave risks that accompanied the use of these opioid medications. Widespread addiction soon took hold while overdoses and fatalities started to rise. For many of these users, OxyContin served as a legally prescribed gateway drug. When they were no longer able to procure the expensive medication, they would often turn to cheaper alternatives like heroin.
Big Pharma – in particular, the Sackler clan – has been the most obvious benefactor from all of this human despair and decay. They set the stage by employing armies of sales reps, recruiting physician co-conspirators, waging a public campaign of misinformation, and lobbying for more favorable regulations in Washington, DC.
The filmmakers provide a brief, but comprehensive primer on the formation of the Sackler enterprise, the rise of their blockbuster opioid product, and their tactics for legitimizing its abuse. The film also outlines the Sacklers’ attempts to maintain a pleasing public face even as their company has shelled out hundreds of millions of dollars in individual lawsuits. Today, the company is facing even more significant lawsuits from nearly every state in the U.S.
The Sackler Family: A Secretive Billion Dollar Opioid Empire tells an infuriating tale. It shows how the callous decisions made in the most regal of executive boardrooms can contribute to the destruction of ordinary lives and societal norms.