The Rise and Fall of the Sacklers, the Family That Gave America OxyContin

Behind the opioid epidemic sweeping the U.S. is an ultra-powerful medication, OxyContin, and behind the drug is an ultra-powerful family. A new book, 'Empire of Pain,' reveals the unscrupulous business practices of the Sackler clan, whose Purdue Pharma fueled a plague that cost some 500,000 Americans their lives

The Sackler family’s name being removed from a wall at Tuft University’s biomedical campus, in 2019.
The Sackler family’s name being removed from a wall at Tuft University’s biomedical campus, in 2019. Credit: David L. Ryan / Boston Globe via Getty Images
Tzach Yoked
Tzach Yoked
Tzach Yoked
Tzach Yoked

Curtis Wright had vetoed and approved the sale of no few medications during his career. A director at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, he headed a team that was in charge of review and approval of new medications. Pain-relievers were his personal responsibility.

On December 28, 1995, the FDA official signed off on a new medication called OxyContin, a more powerful painkiller than anything previously marketed in the U.S. The opioid was twice as powerful as morphine, had dangerous side effects and was quite possibly addictive. Available in the form of tablets in different dosages, some of them particularly high, and delivering its relief through delayed absorption, the drug was intended to alleviate the suffering of terminal cancer patients. Within a short time, it triggered one of the most serious – and most tragic – health crises in the history of the United States.