Richard Sackler is a controversial figure who has come under intense scrutiny in recent years for his pivotal role as president and chairman of Purdue Pharma – the pharmaceutical company that developed and aggressively marketed the prescription painkiller OxyContin. OxyContin has been widely blamed for sparking the opioid epidemic that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives across America.
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This article will provide an overview of Richard Sackler’s background, his time at Purdue Pharma, the allegations he faces over the marketing of OxyContin, and where he is today.
Background and Early Career
Richard Sackler was born in 1945, the son of Raymond Sackler and grandson of Isaac Sackler – both psychiatrists who purchased Purdue Pharma in 1952. After earning his medical degree, Richard Sackler joined Purdue Pharma in 1971 as an assistant to the president – his father Raymond.
Sackler quickly rose up the ranks at Purdue Pharma, becoming head of medical research, executive vice president, and eventually president in 1999. He drove much of the company’s research and development efforts in his early years there.
However, Richard Sackler was perhaps best known for the key role he played in the development and marketing of OxyContin after its launch in 1996.
The Development and Marketing of OxyContin
Purdue Pharma owned the patent for the extended-release formulation of the opioid oxycodone which it branded as OxyContin. Richard Sackler was heavily involved in its development and patenting.
When OxyContin hit the market in 1996, Richard Sackler directed an aggressive marketing campaign that touted the drug as a safe and effective 12-hour pain reliever with minimal risk of addiction. This proved to be dangerously misleading.
Under Sackler’s leadership, Purdue Pharma hosted over 40 pain management and speaker training conferences to promote OxyContin to doctors. Sales representatives were incentivized to aggressively push OxyContin through lucrative bonus structures.
However, OxyContin was highly addictive due to its high oxycodone content. When the 12-hour dosing wore off prematurely for many patients, it caused withdrawal symptoms that led to increased dosages and addiction. This sparked the national opioid crisis.
Lawsuits, Investigations and Allegations
As the opioid epidemic took hold through the early 2000s, Purdue Pharma and Richard Sackler faced a barrage of lawsuits accusing them of deceptive OxyContin marketing and disregarding its addiction risks.
Sackler testified in court during a 2021 civil trial brought by NY, claiming Purdue Pharma did not misrepresent OxyContin’s addictiveness. However, he has been portrayed as refusing to accept responsibility for Purdue Pharma’s role in the crisis.
Over 3,000 lawsuits have been filed against Purdue Pharma, including a landmark 2007 case where the company pled guilty to misbranding OxyContin. In 2020, Purdue Pharma declared bankruptcy and the Sackler family agreed to pay up to $6 billion to resolve opioid-related lawsuits.
Critics have condemned Richard Sackler and top Purdue Pharma executives for putting profits above public health andsafety. Many have called for criminal charges against Sackler and the Sackler family for their part in fueling the devastating opioid crisis.
Where Is Richard Sackler Today?
Richard Sackler resigned as Purdue Pharma’s president and chairman in 2018 amidst the wave of litigation engulfing the company. He has since kept a very low profile.
Sackler, now 77, lives in a modest home in Boca Raton, Florida. He was last seen in public in August 2021 when he testified via video in the NY civil trial against Purdue Pharma.
Despite the controversy surrounding OxyContin, Sackler still has an active license as a physician and surgeon in Connecticut. However, it is unclear if he has practiced medicine in recent decades.
In a surprising development, Sackler was listed as one of six inventors on a 2021 patent application for a new form of buprenorphine – a highly effective medication for treating opioid addiction. This has drawn ethical criticism due to the clear conflict of interest.
Ultimately, Richard Sackler’s legacy will forever be tied to OxyContin and the far-reaching opioid crisis. Though out of the spotlight now, he remains a key figure and lightning rod regarding Big Pharma’s role in fueling addiction epidemics.
Richard Sackler rose to power at Purdue Pharma but is now widely blamed as a principal architect of the opioid crisis due to his aggressive marketing of OxyContin. Lawsuits and public outrage have pushed him from the limelight, but his level of personal accountability remains controversial. Though keeping a very low profile today, Richard Sackler’s complicated legacy continues to embody the controversy surrounding the origins of the opioid epidemic in America.