About Us Contact Us Privacy Policy Terms of Use DMCA Opt-out of personalized ads
© Copyright 2023 Market Realist. Market Realist is a registered trademark. All Rights Reserved. People may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website. Offers may be subject to change without notice.

The Exploits of Richard Sackler at Purdue Pharma and How They Unleashed an Opioid Epidemic

Born in 1945 in Roslyn, New York, he is infamous for his association with Purdue Pharma, the pharmaceutical company responsible for producing OxyContin, a potent painkiller at the center of the ongoing opioid epidemic in the United States
Cover Image Source: WikiMedia Commons
Cover Image Source: WikiMedia Commons

Richard Sackler is an American businessman and physician with a net worth of $1 billion, which is part of the larger Sackler family fortune estimated at $14-15 billion. He is infamous for his role at Purdue Pharma, which was responsible for producing the potent painkiller OxyContin, at the center of the ongoing opioid epidemic in the United States.

Sackler's path into the world of pharmaceuticals began when he joined his family's company, Purdue Pharma, in 1971 as an assistant to his father, who was the company's president. Over the years, he naturally rose up the ranks to become head of research and development as well as marketing. It was during this tenure that he played a significant role in the development and promotion of the painkiller OxyContin, while deliberately hiding how addictive it was.

Cover Image Source: WikiMedia Commons
 Image Source: WikiMedia Commons

The opioid crisis in the US is a public health emergency with devastating consequences. OxyContin, marketed as a less addictive painkiller, became a major player in this crisis, leading to addiction and overdose for countless individuals. Sackler played a key role by pushing the drug through FDA approval in 1995, using false and untested claims about its addictiveness. His relentless promotion of OxyContin as a safe and non-addictive medication contributed to the severe addiction and overdose rates seen today.

Sackler's role in the opioid crisis goes beyond being the president of Purdue Pharma. He actively encouraged pharmaceutical representatives to persuade doctors to prescribe higher doses of OxyContin, leading to further addiction and harm. He was appointed co-chairman of Purdue in 2003, overseeing the research department and the development of OxyContin, while simultaneously running targeted marketing campaigns aimed at various medical professionals.

Image Source: Twitter/ Purdue Pharma L.P.
Image Source: Twitter/ Purdue Pharma L.P.

Legal repercussions finally caught up with Sackler and Purdue Pharma, and in 2007, the company had to settle for $600 million, which was one of the largest settlements ever reached by a US pharmaceutical firm. In 2015, Sackler was deposed in Kentucky, and in 2018, both he and Purdue were sued by the State of Massachusetts. Purdue Pharma eventually filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2019, and in 2020, it reached a settlement of approximately $8 billion while admitting to a conspiracy behind pushing OxyContin without a legitimate medical purpose. The Sackler family members were ordered to pay $225 million as part of the settlement.


In 2023, the dark tale of Sackler's exploits at Purdue Pharma was made into a Netflix show titled "Painkiller." Before this, the Sackler family and the Purdue Pharma scandal had been the focus of other media productions as well. In 2021, a two-part HBO documentary titled "The Crime of the Century" delved into the family's involvement in the opioid crisis. The book "Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty" also exposed the family's activities. Furthermore, Hulu released a miniseries called "Dopesick," in which Richard Sackler was portrayed by Michael Stuhlbarg. In 2022, Laura Poitras directed a documentary film, "All the Beauty and the Bloodshed," which followed photographer Nan Goldin and her advocacy group P.A.I.N. as they staged protests to hold the Sacklers accountable for their role in the opioid crisis.

Richard Sackler was married to his wife Beth and has three children, Rebecca, Marianna, and David. The couple established the Richard and Beth Sackler Foundation, one of many philanthropic efforts aimed at repairing the family's tarnished reputation. These philanthropic endeavors have been met with significant scrutiny, as they have been seen by some as attempts to cleanse the Sackler name amid the opioid crisis fallout.