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These Drug Dealers Killed More People in the Last Decade than the Mexican Cartels


There is a dubious new addition to the Forbes 2015 America’s Richest Families list. The Sackler family, which owns 100 percent of Purdue Pharma, amassed the 16th largest family fortune in the U.S., estimated to be worth $14 billion dollars.

What makes this distinction dubious is the fact that the Sackler's built their fortune by peddling the highly addictive, and often deadly, opiate painkiller OxyContin as a supposedly non-addictive version of oxycodone, labeling it as “abuse resistant.”

Purdue Pharma has generated estimated sales of over $35 billion dollars since releasing OxyContin in 1996. That first year the drug accounted for about $45 million in sales, by 2000 that number had skyrocketed to $1.1 billion, an increase of over 2,000 percent in just four years.

By 2010, OxyContin would account for annual profits of $3.1 billion. Simply put this family controlled almost one-third of the U.S. prescription pain business in America.

In a seemingly methodical manner, Purdue Pharma, under the guidance of brothers Arthur, Raymond, and Mortimer Sackler, began a propaganda campaign to push their new drug, as described in The American Journal of Public Health, "The Promotion and Marketing of OxyContin: Commercial Triumph, Public Health Tragedy."

One of the primary missions of Purdue Pharma was to identify the doctors across America prescribing the most pain medication and strategically marketed the drug directly to them as a safe alternative to other pain medications.

According to The Week:

“During its rise in popularity, there was a suspicious undercurrent to the drug's spectrum of approved uses and Purdue Pharma's relationship to the physicians that were suddenly privileging OxyContin over other meds to combat everything from back pain to arthritis to post-operative discomfort. It would take years to discover that there was much more to the story than the benign introduction of a new, highly effective painkiller…

“This was indeed one of OxyContin’s greatest tactical successes. According to "The Promotion and Marketing of OxyContin," from 1997 to 2002 prescriptions of OxyContin for non-cancer pain increased almost tenfold. Meanwhile, in 1996 the FDA approved an 80mg version of the pill; four years later it approved a 160mg tablet. According to the FDA’s “History of OxyContin: Labeling and Risk Management Program,” higher dosages were approved specifically for opioid-tolerant patients…

“Perhaps knowing that doctors would be vigilant against prescribing drugs with the potential for abuse, Purdue set out to distinguish OxyContin from rivals as soon as it dropped. The cornerstone of its marketing campaign was the drug's incredibly low risk of addiction, an enviable characteristic made possible by its patented time-release formula. Through an array of promotional materials, including literature, brochures, videotapes, and Web content, Purdue proudly asserted that the potential for addiction was very small, at one point stating it to be "less than 1 percent."

As doctors began to readily hand out this new drug, these high dose pills became a scourge across main street America. Drug users increasingly turned to OxyContin for the powerful high and euphoric effects, comparable to heroin, but which can reportedly last for over eight hours.

But what about the claims that the drug was “abuse resistant?”

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Drug abusers quickly figured out that all it took to usurp the time release of the pill was to crush it, and so began a deadly story of snorting and injecting this powerful opiate, which has led to the deaths of thousands of people per year.

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It’s ironic that this family is celebrated for amassing a fortune from selling a drug, which has killed tens of thousands, while good people rot in prison for life for selling a plant that grows naturally and has never killed a single person.

To add insult to injury, in 2007, in United States of America v. The Purdue Frederick Company, Inc., the company plead guilty to misleading patients and doctors about the addictive nature of the drug. Prosecutors cited a "corporate culture that allowed this product to be misbranded with the intent to defraud and mislead."

None of the Sackler family was charged.

Purdue was given a $600 million dollar fine, a very minor slap on the wrist for a company that has generated over $35 billion since 1996 by lying about the deadly dangers of their drug. The company still faces a lawsuit from the State of Kentucky, the place worst hit by the drug epidemic, for false marketing, with damages potentially exceeding $1 billion dollars. The company denies any wrong-doing in the case.

From 1999 to 2010, the sale of prescription painkillers to pharmacies and doctors' offices quadrupled. In the exact same time span, the number of overdose deaths from prescription painkillers also quadrupled, rising to almost 17,000, according to the Center for Disease Control.

The number of deaths caused by the use of OxyContin dwarfs the number of people killed during the deadly Mexican drug war, while overdose deaths, from prescription pills, have now surpassed that of cocaine and heroin combined.

In an entirely irresponsible and hypocritical move, the FDA just approved a measure to give OxyContin to children!

The fact that some people are freely allowed to market potentially deadly drugs, while others are thrown in a cage for the same activity, seems to highlight that not all people are equal in the eyes of the state or the law.

Jay Syrmopoulos is an investigative journalist, free thinker, researcher, and ardent opponent of authoritarianism. He is currently a graduate student at University of Denver pursuing a masters in Global Affairs. Jay's work has been published on BenSwann's Truth in Media, Chris Hedges' truth-out, AlterNet and many other sites. You can follow him on Twitter @sirmetropolis, on Facebook at Sir Metropolis and now on tsu.