Today’s loud noise, music to the Sackler family ears, is the headline that Purdue Pharma, their private firm, will admit criminality and settle for an 8 Billion dollar payment. They will declare they purposefully addicted nearly half a million Americans on Oxycontin, their blockbuster earner, for profit.
The truth behind the song is outrageous.
The Sackler family has spirited billions of dollars into offshore accounts to benefit each of them personally. Billions.
After plundering the coffers, they directed their company to declare bankruptcy in a friendly court, where their handpicked judge has shielded them personally from their creditors (addicts and their families, plus the taxpayers who pay for foster care and addiction treatment and funerals.)
The 8 billion is actually a bit over 200 million. And the real kicker is that the company will not be sold off in pieces to pay for their havoc, it will instead be protected under a public trust.
My brother died of a heroin overdose after fighting addiction for nearly 17 years. He cost my family unbelievable anguish. We paid for rehab and counseling, we hired him and fired him, we gave him a room to live in and we kicked him out. He stole my mother’s rent money. He shot up in my kid’s bathroom. He brought low-life girlfriends with other men’s children for care in my family’s pediatric practice. He missed my grandmother’s last moments and then her funeral. He disappeared and we despaired, he threatened suicide with a firearm and we saved him.
And he was the light of my life, my favorite sibling of five, a closeted gay who finally came out, funny and wise, loving and empathic. When he was sober.
Purdue Pharma is not responsible for my brother’s addiction, he was on heroin before they convinced physicians that their miracle drug was not addictive, before thousands of college kids, thousands of manual laborers, thousands of people suffering from chronic pain, were told one of the greatest lies ever told by an American company, that their product could not be abused.
And, my brother did not survive long enough to partake in another Big Pharma product, Fentanyl. His was classic shoot-em-up illegal street smack, and it killed him after many years of sobriety. After years of meetings, and drug tests and a stable relationship and business with a man who loved him more deeply than I did. He left a 401k balance. A home. A life of love.
In these times of societal despair, perhaps even those who are not addictive or whom have not been yet touched by addiction, can understand turning to a magical solution to our pain. After the news 545 children remain separated from the parents Trump stole from them at our border over a year ago, we binge-watch silly Netflix series, we eat ice cream from the package, we have cocktails on Zoom, or we beg off Book Group to take another nap.
Or maybe, some of us, pause for one moment too long over the Percocet left over from the minor surgery, the muscle relaxant from last year’s hamstring pull, the expired Oxy with the red warning labels we forgot to toss, you know, in case we might need it.
It starts that way.
Even now, after my emergency appendectomy, my doctor wrote an opioid prescription. I was in zero pain. My husband’s anesthesiologist automatically suggested an opioid for a routine colonoscopy. Though not necessary. Even after risk management training and CA medical education and a state drug registry, Purdue Pharma prevails between doctor and patient. “Get ahead of the pain” began as a marketing campaign with Smiley Faces one to five and became clinical fucking dogma. Sing, sing a song and the whole world sings.
Pharma Marketing begins with human behavior. We are hurting, we seek solace. It starts with pain, and the pain becomes so intractable it renders us mute, chronically angry or depressed. Nothing we try works.
I have a rare wrist disease that turned one of the bones to dust. After three surgeries, I have limited function and considerable chronic, worsening pain. My choices are not great. Major, risky surgery that will remove all function and maybe pain (maybe not), or continuous splinting, icing, pain relievers, pain patches, TENS, injections.
I choose doctors who will not prescribe me opioids because I am married to a very smart physician and my brother died of a heroin overdose. I saw firsthand the terrible pain of my brother’s despair become infinitely worsened by the horror of his day in-day out struggle against one of the most seductive destructive substances known to humankind, and I found his dead body.
Quiet the Sackler song for a moment. Hear my brother’s song.
Listen past their noise and see they have gotten away with murder.