Book Review: Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe

Millions of people across the world are addicted to oxycontin. Over lakhs of families have lost their loved ones due to an overdose.

Oxy was created as a pain medication by Purdue Pharma. But, while it did take away the pain, the patients also became hopelessly addicted to it.

Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty is easily the best book I have read in 2021. Patrick Radden Keefe chronicles the cross-generational journey of the Sackler family who owned Purdue. It begins from the humble beginnings of the three Sackler brothers – Arthur, Raymond and Mortimer. They hit jackpot with pharmaceutical advertising when this revelation came to the eldest Sackler brother- Arthur.

While staying out of the limelight, Arthur’s company, Purdue Frederick formulated valium. Being a massive hit in the market, the drug also made him billions of dollars rich. He used his newfound wealth towards art philanthropy in exchange for his name in museums over the world.

Raymond and Mortimer, too, followed Arthur’s footsteps and established Purdue Pharma which manufactured oxycodone and oxycontin. The company adopted aggressive and deceitful sales tactics to ensure doctors prescribed their drug to patients with painful ailments.

Keefe’s journalistic prose and in-depth research evokes extreme reaction within a reader and makes your blood boil. For decades, Sacklers have hidden behind the facade of philanthropy and refused to take accountability. Even with hundreds of court cases against them, they continue victim-blaming. With their lack of acknowledgement and remorse towards this catastrophe, they have failed to redeem themselves time and again.

Furthermore, using the family money, the subsequent generations and their respective spouses have only strengthened their standing in various industries. Keefe’s vexation towards these wrongdoings is reflected in the writings. His significant research brings to notice their share of long impending flagellation. While this may or may not happen, this treasured work encourages the judiciary to reexamine its judgement.

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