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Netflix’s gripping new docu-series “The Pharmacist” follows a grieving pharmacist as he takes justice into his own hands after his son suffered a drug-related death. It was a path that ultimately resulted in him taking on Big Pharma at the onset of America’s opioid crisis.
More specifically, he takes on Perdue Pharma – owned by members of America’s wealthy and prominent Sackler family.
Warning: Spoilers below.
Dan Schneider worked as a pharmacist in Poydras, a tiny rural town in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana when his son was fatally shot in 1999 while trying to buy drugs in New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward. After spending a year and a half meticulously and ultimately successfully tracking down his son’s murderer, he then set his sights on some more challenging killers: the institutions who helped fuel the ongoing opioid crisis.
The docu-series shows how Schneider grew wary of all the OxyContin prescriptions he was filling in the early 2000s, suspicions which triggered a new investigation. While his boss often thought he was overreacting and his wife grew weary of his obsessive need for justice, Scheider soon uncovered corruption on multiple levels.
Many of the corruption trails he followed led straight back to Purdue Pharma, a privately held pharmaceutical company based in Stamford, Connecticut which made billions off of their opioid painkiller OxyContin. The company was run by the Sackler family, which thanks to OxyContin sales, now has a personal net worth in the billions.
Purdue Pharma was founded in 1892 by doctors John Purdue Gray and George Frederick but brothers Raymond and Mortimer Sackler purchased the company in 1952. Three of Mortimer’s seven children and Raymond’s two children and one of his grandchildren became members of the company’s board, The Guardian reported. Raymond’s son Richard was president of Purdue from 1999 to 2003 before becoming a co-chairman of the company, according to the New Yorker.
All the Sacklers have since stepped down from the board as of last year, the Stamford Advocate reported.
While the company was convicted in 2007 of misrepresenting the addictive potential of OxyContin and misleading doctors as the docu-series shows, the Sacklers themselves were not initially charged. As a result of that 2007 conviction, the company paid over $600 millions in fines – yet still continued to promote OxyContin. A 2019 lawsuit, which claims the company directed doctors to overprescribe the drug for big profit, names Raymon’s son Richard Sackler, Raymond’s widow Beverly Sackler, their son David Sackler, Mortimer’s children Ilene Sackler Lefcourt, Jonathan Sackler, Kathe Sackler, Mortimer Sackler Jr. and Mortimer Sr.’s widow Theresa Sackler as defendants.
During a 2015 deposition that is featured in "The Pharmacist," former Purdue president Richard Sackler said he didn’t believe that Purdue was responsible for causing any of the addiction issues that plagued the country during the ongoing opioid crisis. Prescription opioids, which include OxyContin, have been blamed over more than 200,000 deaths between 1999 and 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Last September, as a response of multiple lawsuits being filed against Purdue regarding the opioid crisis, the company settled and filed for bankruptcy.
“The settlement structure is estimated to provide more than $10 billion of value to address the opioid crisis,” Purdue says on its website. People who have been victimized by the opioid crisis are now encouraged to file claims against Purdue, the Associated Press reported last month.
In addition to Purdue's affect on the nation, the prominent Sackler family holds other influences.
Mortimer Sr’s widow Theresa was once awarded the Prince of Wales Medal for Art Philanthropy, according to the New Yorker. Theresa’s daughter, Sophie, is married to English cricket player Jamie Dalrymple. Raymond’s son Jonathan has funded school privatization, according to Salon. His daughter, Madeleine Sackler, is a filmmaker who created a documentary about charter schools, the New York Times reported. Raymond’s other son David Sackler runs a family investment fund.
Ilene Sackler Lefcourt is the director of the Sackler Lefcourt Center for Child Development which creates play groups for children and discussion groups for mothers.
Elizabeth Sackler, who is the niece of Mortimer and Raymond, is an arts activist and the founder of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum. She has distanced herself from Perdue-related relatives and even called her family’s OxyContin fortune “morally abhorrent” in a 2018 interview with Hyperallergic.
Elizabeth’s brother Michael Sackler-Berner, a singer-songwriter, told the New Yorker that “none of the descendants of Arthur M. Sackler have ever had anything to do with, or benefited from, the sale of OxyContin.”
Michael and Elizabeth are the grandchildren of Arthur Sackler, sibling of Purdue’s former owners. Interestingly, he used a magazine column he authored to condemn unethical behavior conducted by tobacco companies, the New Yorker reported. He died in 1987, before OxyContin was invented.
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