Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Some drug dealers go to prison. Some get filthy rich.

The Sacklers, are the newest members of Forbes' 2015 List of Richest US Families and are worth $14 billion, making them the 16th richest family in the country.

The Sacklers own 100% of Purdue Pharma, the Stamford, Connecticut-based company that makes Oxycontin, the opiate analgesic that helped spark a new generation of pain pill and heroin addicts. Oxycontin is time-release pain reliever, originally billed as addiction-proof, has generated the vast majority of Purdue Pharma's $35 billion in sales since it was first introduced in 1995. Purdue is currently generating about $3 billion a year in revenues, again most of it from Oxycontin. Sales of oxycodone jumped from fewer than 10 million prescriptions a year in 1991 to more than 53 million prescriptions in 2012, largely impelled by the introduction of Oxycontin and Purdue Pharma's aggressive marketing campaign for the drug. And while it's difficult to isolate Oxycontin from other opiate analgesics, it has been a big driver in the fourfold increase in prescription opiate sales between 1999 and 2010. Thanks to Purdue's aggressive marketing campaign, and especially to the claim the Oxycontin was not addictive, primary care physicians soon began prescribing it for a wide array of painful symptoms. By 2002, Oxycontin was bringing in $1.5 billion a year.

Of course, people interested in getting high off opiates quickly figured out that they could just crush the pill to overcome its time-release mechanism, snort the powder, and get as high—or higher—than they could with heroin. Purdue knew people would crush and snort the pills, but said they didn't, while their own tests indicated as much and how much more addictive snorting was. Then they kept that formulation on the market for several more years until there was an epidemic of addiction, Then they changed the formula. They didn't actually stop making the old formula pills, they just made less of them, so those old pills were (and are) worth much more on the black market. But that's the holy grail of prescription addiction, how hooked can we get them without using a needle Overdoses, accidental deaths, and addiction followed. Purdue has been punished for its misbehavior—it was forced to pay $635 million in fines after pleading guilty to false marketing charges brought by the Justice Department, and is facing a possible $1 billion payout in a false marketing suit brought by the state of Kentucky, one of the hardest hit by "hillbilly heroin." But even numbers like those are chump change when you're sitting on a $14 billion fortune.

The Sacklers, whose product has killed thousands and addicted tens or hundreds of thousands more, get to join the list of the country's wealthiest families.

No comments: