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 finest book I have read in 2021. Patrick Radden Keefe chronicles the Sackler family’s multi-generational journey as owners of Purdue University. We begin with the humble beginnings of the three Sackler brothers – Arthur, Raymond, and Mortimer. Arthur Sackler, the eldest of the Sackler brothers, hits the jackpot with pharmaceutical advertising.

Whilst staying out of the limelight, Arthurโ€™s company, Purdue Frederick, produced valium. A huge hit on the market, the drug also made him billions of dollars. He used his newfound wealth towards art philanthropy in exchange for his reputation in museums around the world.

Raymond and Mortimer, following Arthurโ€™s suit, established Purdue Pharma which manufactured oxycodone and oxycontin. The company adopted aggressive and deceitful sales tactics to ensure doctors prescribed their drugs to patients with painful ailments.

It is Keefe’s journalistic prose and in-depth research that evoke extreme reactions and make the reader’s blood boil. A facade of philanthropy has shielded the Sacklers for decades, allowing them to avoid accountability. Despite hundreds of court cases against them, they continue to blame victims. They fail to redeem themselves due to their lack of acknowledgement and remorse.

In addition, the subsequent generations and their spouses have benefited from the money by strengthening their standing in various industries. Keefe’s vexation over these wrongdoings is evident in his writings. He has brought to light the long-awaited flagellation through his significant research. Although this may or may not happen, this valuable piece of literature encourages the judiciary to rethink its judgments.

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