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How the Makers of OxyContin Contributed to the Opioid Crisis

A new piece by the New Yorker details the Sackler family's impact.

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The north wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is known as the Sackler Wing, and is essentially a monument to one of “America’s great philanthropic dynasties,” writes the New YorkerThroughout their lifetimes, the Sackler brothers, Arthur, Mortimer, and Raymond, donated lavishly to a large range of institutions.

But where did these Brooklyn-born brothers’ money come from? According to the New Yorker, the brothers were famously quiet when it came to their family business, Purdue Pharma. The privately-owned company developed the prescription painkiller OxyContin.

A new piece by the New Yorker looks into the devastating affect OxyContin has had since it’s release in 1995, and the family’s role in the opioid crisis.

OxyContin was hailed as a medical breakthrough, writes the New Yorker, because it was a long-lasting narcotic that could help patients with varying pain levels. The article says that the drug generated about $35 billion in revenue for Purdue. Millions of patients found relief through the drug.

However, many people also got hooked on the drug, so much so that in between doses, they would have debilitating withdrawal. OxyContin has one active ingredient: oxycodone, which is a “chemical cousin” of heroin and is up to twice as powerful as morphine, the New Yorker reports.

The article states that since 1999, two hundred thousand Americans have died from overdoses related to OxyContin and other prescription opioids. If prescriptions were too expensive or difficult to get, patients would turn to heroin. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine and reported by the New Yorker, four out of five people who try heroin today started with prescription painkillers. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated hundred and forty-five Americans now die every day from opioid overdoses.

When asked by the New Yorker how much of the blame Purdue bears for the current public-health crisis, Andrew Kolodny, who has worked with hundreds of patients addicted to opioids and is the co-director of the Opioid Policy Research Collaborative at Brandeis University, responded, “The lion’s share.”

Read full story at The New Yorker