The Sackler Family Saga

The sackler family
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From the rise of Purdue Pharma, to becoming the archetype villain of the opiate crisis, the Sackler Family has certainly evolved over the years. The last name that is now synonymous with the drug OxyContin and the United States’ opioid epidemic. However, it wasn’t always that way.

The Sackler family was well-known for their philanthropy in art, academia, and medicine, with philanthropic endeavors for some of the world’s leading institutions such as the Guggenheim Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Yale University, to name a few. But the public reputation of the family name behind one of the country’s largest pharmaceutical developers changed in October 2017.

History of the Sackler Family

The Sackler family began with brothers Arthur, Mortimer, and Raymond Sackler. All three were doctors and businessmen. In the 1950s, the Sackler brothers purchased a small company that would one day become Purdue Pharma. When Arthur passed away, Mortimer and Raymond purchased his stake in the company, and the two of them, along with Raymond’s son Richard, continued to run the company.

Purdue Pharma started out by selling products such as earwax remover, laxatives, and an antiseptic called Betadine. In 1996, the pharmaceutical company launched the prescription painkiller, OxyContin. And by 2001, OxyContin sales made up approximately 80 percent of Purdue Pharma’s revenue, according to the New York Times.

The Opiate Crisis

The Sackler family played a prominent role in the opiate crisis that the United States is still battling.

In 1996, Purdue Pharma launched the now infamous prescription painkiller, OxyContin. At the time, it was widely known how addictive this drug was, so many doctors refrained from prescribing it unless it was for cancer patients. However, Purdue Pharma began building relationships with doctors and convincing them of all the other ways OxyContin could be used outside of cancer care. Shortly after, doctors started coming out and saying that it was a safe and effective drug to prescribe for pain. We know now that this was not true and it is still a very addictive opioid, one that sparked the opioid crisis in the United States.

According to Business Insider, by 2001, sales of the drug made up about $3 billion or 80 percent of the company’s revenue.

  • 2011: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared that painkiller overdoses had reached epidemic levels
  • 2014: Opioid overdose deaths increased 200 percent from the year 2000
  • 2016: The CDC changes its guidelines on prescribing opioids for chronic pain. The “Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act” passed through legislation to address multiple aspects of the epidemic.


In 2016, the Department of Health and Health Services (HHS) came out and said that an estimated 42,000 people died from opioid overdoses, the highest number on record. Data released by the CDC in 2017 indicated that in 2016, 116 people died daily from opioid-related overdoses and 11.5 million people misused prescription opioids

The opioid crisis was officially declared a public health emergency in 2017.

Purdue Pharma Lawsuits and the Future

The Sackler family has been involved in numerous lawsuits over the past decade due to the role that their aggressive marketing tactics had in the opioid epidemic.

OxyContin pills
By the late 2000s, a string of lawsuits against Purdue Pharma had begun, alleging the company misled about the addictive qualities of its OxyContin medication.

In 2007, twelve years after the launch of OxyContin, the federal government filed criminal charges against Purdue Pharma surrounding their marketing tactics. The pharmaceutical company and some of its executives plead guilty and agreed to pay $634.5 million in fines for misrepresenting the risk of addictive properties of OxyContin in their misleading advertisements of the painkiller.

By 2017, ten states had sued Purdue Pharma for its alleged role in opioid-related overdoses and deaths by way of OxyContin. By 2019, 48 states had sued both Purdue Pharma and the Sacklers for their alleged roles. At this point in time, the other two states—Oklahoma and Kentucky—had already settled their lawsuits against the company.

It was also in 2019 that Purdue Pharma and members of the Sackler family reached a settlement with approximately two dozen states. The settlement included that the Sackler family would pay $3 billion in cash over a period of seven years and Purdue Pharma would file bankruptcy and be turned into a public benefit corporation.

In October 2020, NPR reported that the company reached an $8 billion settlement deal with the Justice Department. This settlement also would restructure Purdue Pharma from a privately held company and turn it into a public trust under government control.

As of December 2020, Forbes revealed that the Sackler family the 30th richest family in the United States, with a total net worth of $10.8 billion. Even after years of litigation and lawsuits, they remain one of the wealthiest families i the world.

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However, they have paused their philanthropic endeavors as lawsuits continue to settle against Purdue Pharma and the family. In a 2019 statement, Theresa Sackler said that, “the Trustees of the Sackler Trust have taken the difficult decision to temporarily pause all new philanthropic giving, while still honouring existing commitments.”

Overcoming Opiate Addiction

People every day continue to battle the fight against opioid addiction in the United States. If you or a loved one are suffering and need help, DreamLife Recovery is here to help. Contact us today to begin your journey to recovery.


  1. “Purdue Pharma Offers Restructuring Plan, Sackler Family Would Give Up Ownership” – Mann, Brian; NPR, 16 March, 2021
  2. #30: Sackler Family – Forbes
  3. “Sackler family to pay $4.2 billion toward opioid lawsuit settlement, documents show” – Katersky, Aaron; ABC News, 16 March, 2021
  4. “The Sackler Family and Mine” – Gessen, Masha; The New Yorker, 19 January, 2021
  5. Timeline of the Opioid Epidemic in America – DOPA
  6. “Despite Years Of Litigation, The Sackler Family Behind OxyContin Is Still Worth Billions” – Au-Yeung, Angel; Forbes, 17 December, 2020
  7. “Sackler Trust suspends new UK donations” – BBC News, 25 March, 2019
  8. “Mortimer D. Sackler, Arts Patron, Dies at 93” – Weber, Bruce; New York Times, 31 March, 2010
  9. “The family behind OxyContin pocketed $10.7 billion from Purdue Pharma. Meet the Sacklers, who built their $13 billion fortune off the controversial opioid” – Warren, Katie and Taylor Nicole Rogers; Business Insider, 23 March, 2020