NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE NOMINEE • A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF THE YEAR • NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER • A grand, devastating portrait of three generations of the Sackler family, famed for their philanthropy, whose fortune was built by Valium and whose reputation was destroyed by OxyContin. From the prize-winning and bestselling author of Say Nothing
The history of the Sackler dynasty is rife with drama—baroque personal lives; bitter disputes over estates; fistfights in boardrooms; glittering art collections; Machiavellian courtroom maneuvers; and the calculated use of money to burnish reputations and crush the less powerful. The Sackler name has adorned the walls of many storied institutions—Harvard, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Oxford, the Louvre. They are one of the richest families in the world, known for their lavish donations to the arts and the sciences. The source of the family fortune was vague, however, until it emerged that the Sacklers were responsible for making and marketing a blockbuster painkiller that was the catalyst for the opioid crisis.
Empire of Pain begins with the story of three doctor brothers, Raymond, Mortimer and the incalculably energetic Arthur, who weathered the poverty of the Great Depression and appalling anti-Semitism. Working at a barbaric mental institution, Arthur saw a better way and conducted groundbreaking research into drug treatments. He also had a genius for marketing, especially for pharmaceuticals, and bought a small ad firm.
Arthur devised the marketing for Valium, and built the first great Sackler fortune. He purchased a drug manufacturer, Purdue Frederick, which would be run by Raymond and Mortimer. The brothers began collecting art, and wives, and grand residences in exotic locales. Their children and grandchildren grew up in luxury.
Forty years later, Raymond’s son Richard ran the family-owned Purdue. The template Arthur Sackler created to sell Valium—co-opting doctors, influencing the FDA, downplaying the drug’s addictiveness—was employed to launch a far more potent product: OxyContin. The drug went on to generate some thirty-five billion dollars in revenue, and to launch a public health crisis in which hundreds of thousands would die.
This is the saga of three generations of a single family and the mark they would leave on the world, a tale that moves from the bustling streets of early twentieth-century Brooklyn to the seaside palaces of Greenwich, Connecticut, and Cap d’Antibes to the corridors of power in Washington, D.C. Empire of Pain chronicles the multiple investigations of the Sacklers and their company, and the scorched-earth legal tactics that the family has used to evade accountability.
Empire of Pain is a masterpiece of narrative reporting and writing, exhaustively documented and ferociously compelling. It is a portrait of the excesses of America’s second Gilded Age, a study of impunity among the super elite and a relentless investigation of the naked greed and indifference to human suffering that built one of the world’s great fortunes.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
America’s ongoing opioid epidemic can be traced back to not just one drug but to one unscrupulous family. In this riveting account, investigative journalist Patrick Radden Keefe (Say Nothing) describes how the Sackler family, the owners of Purdue Pharma, aggressively marketed the painkiller Oxycontin, using their massive power and influence to get the highly addictive drug overprescribed. With the sweeping drama of a novel, Keefe tells the Sackler brothers’ story from the beginning. He charms us with tales of their humble roots and early positive medical contributions—which makes their moral downfall all the more shocking. To illustrate the staggering scope of Oxycontin’s devastation, Keefe uses hard numbers and statistics—but also tragic real-life stories, like that of a New Jersey mother whose fatal overdose was discovered by her four-year-old son. The Oxycontin epidemic has always been heartbreaking. The rampant greed exposed in Empire of Pain makes it enraging.
From someone that lost someone close from this epidemic. Thank you for writing this book.
This book is an incredibly detailed look at three generations of a family driven by greed and utterly void of any amount of remorse for their purposeful destruction of humanity in order to line their pockets. The work is very well written!
interesting to get some of the background of what went on behind the curtains of Purdue. I am just so glad that my physician never put me on OxyContin to fight my chronic neck pain. I could have been one of the statistics. Such a shame of those that were given prescription to such an addictive drug.