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Perspective: Opioids


OxyContin was invented in 1996 by Purdue Pharma, a company owned by the Sackler family. It was the first opioid marketed to treat all kinds of chronic pain and it became a 35-billion-dollar goldmine.

OxyContin is morphine with a coating designed to release the drug slowly to prevent addiction. But a lot of people did get addicted, many who took the drug exactly as directed.

Since 1999, at least 500,000 Americans have died of opioid-related overdoses, 100,000 in the last year alone. There is much blame to go around, but the Sacklers have always been at the helm.

Persuading an FDA regulator to approve the drug without a thorough review. Creating an ad campaign that assured doctors and the public that the drug wasn’t addictive. Budgeting millions to buy meals for doctors and lavish incentives on sales reps. Hiring lawyers to unleash questionable tactics to kill lawsuits.

Then there were some doctors who over-prescribed and some pharmacists who ignored massive sales.

The Sacklers have never acknowledged broad scientific consensus that the drug chemically alters the brain, instead insisting that those addicted are just weak.

In 2019, Purdue Pharma declared bankruptcy, long after the Sacklers had cleared out a lot of its cash. A settlement of about $6 billion is pending; the money will go to the states for addiction treatment programs. To this day, the Sacklers admit no wrong-doing.

I’m Deborah Booth and that’s my Perspective.

Deborah Booth retired in Fall 2014 from NIU, where she was the director of External Programs for the College of Visual and Performing Arts.