The Sacklers' deadly drug peddling

Adapted from Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary,'' in

The Sackler  drug-fortune family, whose total wealth is estimated at around $15 billion, recalls the over-the-top Balzac line that “behind every great fortune is a great crime.’’  Theirs was to help create the opioid epidemic.

The Sacklers are the status-obsessed clan that puts its name in large letters on bronze and other fancy signs announcing members’ gifts to already rich museums and colleges and universities (including New England Ivy League schools) to affirm their membership in the social/mercantile aristocracy. Most of their money comes from their closely held company Purdue Pharma, which hugely hyped their painkiller OyxContin to physicians and patients. Purdue lied that the opiate was remarkably safe.  No. It's a menace.

The  company’s outrageous marketing of OxyContin has led to massive addiction and the overdose deaths of many thousands of people.

Even before OxyContin, Arthur Sackler, one of the three brothers who bought then tiny Purdue Pharma in 1952 and then built it up in a vastly profitable behemoth, heavily and misleadingly promoted the glories of the benzodiazepine Valium when he was an ad man. Valium is also very addictive and potentially lethally dangerous. What an innovative family!

From the start, the family-held firm’s secrets to success have included (as with some members of Big Pharma) its relentless pushing of its products to physicians, with junkets to fancy places, paying doctors big fees to give very short speeches and other perks that some might simply call bribes in the world’s most avaricious health “system.’’

Instead of showing off its money with well-advertised contributions to institutions catering to the elite, the Sacklers would do far better to set up a nonprofit chain of drug-rehabilitation clinics to address the vast damage that they have done.

In a weird way, New Englanders have seen this sort of money-laundering before, when the “China Trade’’ of the late 18th and early 19th centuries earned fortunes from opium sales. Some of it ended up in (what are now called) Ivy League colleges and other prestigious institutions. Opiates forever!