I recently visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. There, you will find the Sackler Wing which contains treasures from the age of the Egyptian pharaohs. You will also find Arthur M. Sackler galleries at the Smithsonian Institute ,Harvard and Beijing University. Many people do not know the Sackler name apart from their association with these lofty cultural institutions.
Arthur M. Sackler has been referred to as a marketing genius and the godfather of the modern-day drug advertising industry. He developed drug marketing techniques such as: direct to consumer advertising , sponsoring luxurious all expense paid medical education courses for doctors, glamorizing drugs as a quick fixes, and paying for "scientific" studies backing the need for and/or efficacy of the particular drug being studied.
Arthur Sackler, who was already rich, made a fortune marketing and selling Librium and Valium. Later, younger brothers Mortimer and Raymond joined Arthur in acquiring a little known drug company called the Purdue Frederick Company. Arthur died in 1987 at the age of 73. In 1996 the family owned company, now known as Purdue Pharma introduced it’s new blockbuster drug, Oxycontin.
Oxycontin is a very powerful, long acting narcotic which is should only be prescribed for serious pain. Purdue Pharma recognized even before the drug was marketed that they would face stiff resistance from doctors who were concerned about the potential for OxyContin to be abused by patients or cause addiction.
Taking a chapter from brother Arthur’s drug marketing playbook, Mortimer and Raymond embarked on the most aggressive marketing campaign ever undertaken by a pharmaceutical company for a narcotic painkiller. Purdue Pharma marketed OxyContin to doctors like general practitioners, who often had little training in the treatment of serious pain or in recognizing signs of drug abuse in patients. One of their techniques was to fly physicians in to conferences about the "inadequate treatment of pain" and the need for doctors to aggressively prescribe narcotics like Oxycontin to their patients.
Just a few years after the drug’s introduction in 1996, annual sales reached $1 billion.
In reality, Oxycontin proved to be a powerfully addictive drug. Some users including teenagers, soon discovered that chewing an OxyContin pill or crushing one and then snorting the powder or injecting it with a needle produced a high as powerful as heroin. By 2000, parts of the United States, particularly rural areas, began to see skyrocketing rates of addiction and crime related to use of the drug. The drug came to be known among certain circles as "hillbilly heroin"
A comprehensive review of the problem appeared in the journal Pain Physician http://www.painphysicianjournal.com/2006/october/2006;9;287-321.pdf
CDC and DEA data included in the review suggested that from 1997-2004 there was a:
> 556% increase in the sales of oxycodone;
> 500% increase in therapeutic grams of oxycodone used,
> 568% increase in the non-medical use of OxyContin (especially among young people)
> 129% increase in opioid-related deaths [without heroin or cocaine]:
Using this data, the author extrapolated that the number of deaths from Oxycontin could surpass the deaths from 911 and the Iraq war combined!
By 2007 the government caught up with Purdue which resulted in three current and former executives pleaded guilty to criminal charges that they misled regulators, doctors and patients about the drug’s risk of addiction and its potential to be abused. Purdue paid over $600 million in criminal and civil penalties.
From left, Howard R. Udell, the top lawyer for Purdue Pharma; Dr. Paul D. Goldenheim, the company’s former medical director; and Michael Friedman, Purdue’s president.
The last chapter of the Oxycontin saga has not been written. Despite their assertions to the contrary, Purdue Pharma has not cleaned up their act. Read between the lines on Partners Against Pain and you’ll see some of Arthur’s old tricks still being used.
There is much more to be written about Purdue Pharma and their dirty and deadly deeds. However, I was just so struck by seeing the Sackler name associated with such a venerable institution as the Metropolitan Museum of Art that I thought you should know what this family did to deserve having a wing of a famous art museum named after them.