From the Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times reporter who first exposed the roots of the opioid epidemic and the secretive world of the Sackler family behind Purdue Pharma, Pain Killer is the celebrated landmark story of corporate greed and government negligence that inspired an upcoming Netflix series.
“Groundbreaking . . . Pain Killer is the shocking account of the origins of today’s opioid epidemic, the creators of this plague, and the way to help stop it.”—Sam Quinones, author of Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic
Between 1999 and 2017, an estimated 250,000 Americans died from overdoses involving prescription painkillers, a plague ignited by Purdue Pharma’s aggressive marketing of OxyContin. Families, working class and wealthy, have been torn apart, businesses destroyed, and public officials pushed to the brink. Meanwhile, the drugmaker’s owners, Raymond and Mortimer Sackler, whose names adorn museums worldwide, made enormous fortunes from the commercial success of OxyContin.
In Pain Killer, Barry Meier tells the story of how Purdue turned OxyContin into a billion-dollar blockbuster. Powerful narcotic painkillers, or opioids, were once used as drugs of last resort for pain sufferers. But Purdue launched an unprecedented marketing campaign claiming that the drug’s long-acting formulation made it safer to use than traditional painkillers for many types of pain. That illusion was quickly shattered as drug abusers learned that crushing an Oxy could release its narcotic payload all at once. Even in its prescribed form, Oxy proved fiercely addictive. As OxyContin’s use and abuse grew, Purdue concealed what it knew from regulators, doctors, and patients.
Here are the people who profited from the crisis and those who paid the price, those who plotted in boardrooms and those who tried to sound alarm bells. A country doctor in rural Virginia, Art Van Zee, took on Purdue and warned officials about OxyContin abuse. An ebullient high school cheerleader, Lindsey Myers, was reduced to stealing from her parents to feed her escalating Oxy habit. A hard-charging DEA official, Laura Nagel, tried to hold Purdue executives to account.
In Pain Killer, Barry Meier breaks new ground in his decades-long investigation into the opioid epidemic. He takes readers inside Purdue to show how long the company withheld information about the abuse of OxyContin and gives a shocking account of the Justice Department’s failure to alter the trajectory of the opioid epidemic and protect thousands of lives. Equal parts crime thriller, medical detective story, and business exposé, Pain Killer is a hard-hitting look at how a supposed wonder drug became the gateway drug to a national tragedy.
Investigative reporter Meier explores the troubling issues raised by the powerful prescription painkiller OxyContin, which touched off what many saw as an epidemic of addiction and crime, especially in Appalachia, where the drug became known as"hillbilly heroin.". At one level, Meier's story is a public health quandary pitting the interests of patients and their advocates in the"pain management movement"--which urges the increased use of strong opiates like OxyContin to help cancer patients and other victims of chronic pain--against the irrepressible urge of bored teenagers to abuse anything that will get them high. But it's also a cautionary tale about the corrupting influence of the profit motive on medicine. According to Meier, Purdue, the pharmaceutical company that makes the drug, touted it as a less addictive alternative to other formulations, then dragged its feet on restricting the drug when reports of addiction and illicit dealing began to come in--sometimes from its own salespeople. Meanwhile, Purdue launched a massive promotional campaign, complete with lavish ads, company-sponsored medical associations and physician-spokesmen, to convince doctors to prescribe OxyContin even for minor bouts of pain, thus fueling the drug's availability on the street. Meier combines a well-researched account of the medical controversy surrounding OxyContin with affecting reportage on one of its victims, a high school cheerleader whose life went into a tailspin once she encountered the drug. His book is an absorbing indictment of the modern health-care marketing industry, which, as depicted here, has blurred the line between medical"education" and shilling.