- Purdue Pharma, the drugmaker behind controversial prescription painkiller OxyContin, has filed for bankruptcy, The Washington Post reported.
- The Chapter 11 filing is part of a tentative settlement agreement in thousands of lawsuits over what accusers say is misleading marketing of OxyContin that’s been partly responsible for the US opioid crisis, The New York Times reported.
- The family behind Purdue Pharma, the Sacklers, is one of the richest families in the US, with an estimated $13 billion fortune that came primarily from sales of the controversial prescription painkiller, according to Forbes.
- While some members of the family own the pharmaceutical company, others have distanced themselves from the company and condemned the OxyContin-based wealth.
- The family is known for its philanthropic endeavors, though many institutions, including museums and universities, have recently cut ties with the Sacklers.
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The Sacklers are one of the wealthiest families in the US, with an estimated fortune of $13 billion, but they may not be for much longer.
Purdue Pharma, the pharmaceutical company owned by members of the Sackler family, has filed for bankruptcy, the Washington Post reported Sunday evening.
The Chapter 11 filing is part of a tentative settlement agreement in thousands of lawsuits over what accusers say is misleading marketing of Purdue Pharma’s controversial painkiller, OxyContin, that’s been partly responsible for the US opioid crisis, The New York Times reported on September 11. The settlement requires the owners of Purdue Pharma, members of the Sackler family, to pay $3 billion of their own fortune in cash over the next seven years.
“Purdue Pharma continues to work with all plaintiffs on reaching a comprehensive resolution to its opioid litigation that will deliver billions of dollars and vital opioid overdose rescue medicines to communities across the country impacted by the opioid crisis,” the company said in a statement emailed to Business Insider.
The source of the family’s wealth is OxyContin, the prescription painkiller that many say has fueled the US opioid crisis. Purdue Pharma has faced thousands of lawsuits over what accusers say is misleading marketing of OxyContin that contributed to opioid-related deaths.
The Sacklers are far from a tight-knit family. The Guardian described them in 2018 as “a sprawling and now feuding transatlantic dynasty.” According to a 2017 article from The New Yorker, there are 15 Sackler children in the generation following the founders of Purdue.
While some Sacklers serve as board members of Purdue Pharma, others, notably those descended from the eldest brother, Arthur M. Sackler, who died before OxyContin was invented, have distanced themselves from the company and condemned the OxyContin-based wealth, according to The Guardian.
Here’s a look at the secretive and controversial family.
The Sackler family is one of the richest families in the US.
In 2016, Forbes estimated their net worth at a “conservative” $14 billion, beating out famously wealthy families such as the Mellons and the Rockefellers. More recent estimates put the figure at $13 billion. They own Purdue Pharma, a pharmaceutical company in Connecticut.
The vast majority of the Sackler fortune comes from a well-known prescription painkiller that Purdue Pharma launched in 1996, OxyContin.
By 2001, sales of the drug made up about 80% of Purdue Pharma’s revenue.
OxyContin is seen as partly to blame for the opioid crisis sweeping the US.
- Brian Snyder/Reuters
More than 130 people in the US die each day after overdosing on opioids, including prescription pain relievers, heroin, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse.
Purdue Pharma, which generates $3 billion in annual sales, has faced hundreds of lawsuits over what accusers say is misleading marketing about the risks of addiction when taking OxyContin.
- Nic Antaya for The Boston Globe via Getty Images
The Sackler family still completely owns the company, and the multibillion-dollar fortune is shared among 20 or so family members. The family fortune has been estimated at $13 billion, but, as The New York Times reported, the exact number is unknown as Purdue Pharma is a private company.
On September 11, the New York Times reported that the owners of Purdue Pharma — including members of the Sackler family — reached a tentative settlement agreement.
The settlement requires the Sacklers to pay $3 billion of their own fortune in cash over the next seven years, The Times reported.
On September 15, The Washington Post reported that Purdue Pharma had filed for bankruptcy. The Chapter 11 filing came as part of a tentative settlement of more than 2,000 lawsuits against the pharmaceutical company for between $10 billion and $12 billion.
- George Frey/Reuters
The proposed settlement includes the Sackler family giving up ownership of the company and turning it into a for-profit “public benefit trust” that would provide $4 billion in drugs – some of which are used to save people from overdoses – to cities, counties, and states, according to NBC News.
The deal would also include $3 billion in cash from the Sackler family, Bloomberg reported.
In a statement released on September 16, the Sackler family said:
“It is our hope the bankruptcy reorganization process that is now underway will end our ownership of Purdue and ensure its assets are dedicated for the public benefit … We are hopeful that in time, those parties who are not yet supportive will ultimately shift their focus to the critical resources that the settlement provides to people and problems that need them.”
Despite the tentative settlement, Purdue Pharma continues to deny any wrongdoing. In a statement to Business Insider, the company said: “While Purdue Pharma is prepared to defend itself vigorously in the opioid litigation, the company has made clear that it sees little good coming from years of wasteful litigation and appeals.”
The company declined to comment on any further details of the proposed settlement to Business Insider.
The pharmaceutical empire began when the brothers Mortimer and Raymond Sackler took over a small pharmaceutical company in New York City’s Greenwich Village called Purdue Frederick as cochairmen.
It later became Purdue Pharma.
Arthur, the oldest Sackler brother, worked in pharmaceutical marketing and became one of the world’s leading collectors of Asian art.
- Getty Images
Arthur’s four children, Elizabeth Sackler, Carol Master, Arthur Felix Sackler, and Denise Marica, have said they have not made any money from OxyContin.
- Getty Images
Elizabeth, a board member of the Brooklyn Museum, where she endowed the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, has called the OxyContin-based wealth of her family members “morally abhorrent.”
A 2018 investigation by The Atlantic found a court document that showed a nearly $20 million payment to Arthur M. Sackler’s estate in 1997 from the Purdue family of companies, suggesting his descendants did benefit in some way from OxyContin.
In an email to Business Insider, Janet Wootten, a spokeswoman for Jillian Sackler, widow of Arthur M. Sackler, denied that Jillian, Arthur, or their heirs have financially profited from the sale of OxyContin.
Mortimer Sackler, the middle son who was one of Purdue Pharma’s chief executives, died in 2010 at age 93. He left behind his third wife, Theresa Sackler, and seven children, three of whom are board members of Purdue Pharma, according to The Guardian.
One of those board members is his son, also named Mortimer.
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The other two are the daughters Kathe Sackler, who is also the founder and president of the Acorn Foundation for the Arts & Sciences, and Ilene Sackler Lefcourt, the director of the Sackler Lefcourt Center for Child Development.
The elder Mortimer’s other four children — Samantha Sophia, Michael, Marissa, and Sophie — are apparently not involved in the company.
- Getty Images
Raymond Sackler, Purdue Pharma’s other former chief executive, died in 2017 at age 97. He had two children: Jonathan and Richard.
Both are board members at Purdue Pharma.
Richard’s son and Raymond’s grandson, David, is also a board member.
Richard Sackler reportedly lives in a six-bedroom home in Austin, Texas.
His son, David Sackler, paid cash for a $22.5 million home in Los Angeles in 2018, according to Curbed.
- Sundry Photography/Shutterstock
The 10,000-square-foot estate sits on four acres in the Bel Air neighborhood, according to Curbed, and includes a tennis court and a pool.
David is married to Joss Sackler, the founder of a private social club and clothing company for women.
- Owen Hoffmann/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images
Raymond’s granddaughter, Madeleine Sackler, is an award-winning filmmaker.
- Monica Schipper/Getty Images
In response to criticism related to her family background, she said she had “never worked at the company or had any influence in it.”
“The Sacklers have hidden their connection to their product,” Keith Humphreys, a psychiatry professor at Stanford University who has written extensively about the opioid crisis, told Esquire.
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“They don’t call it ‘Sackler Pharma,'” Humphreys said. “They don’t call their pills ‘Sackler pills.’ And when they’re questioned, they say, ‘Well, it’s a privately held firm, we’re a family, we like to keep our privacy, you understand.'”
But the family is well-known for their philanthropic endeavors, with their names visibly emblazoned on hospital wings and museum galleries.
- Shutterstock/Alexander Prokopenko
In a 2017 New Yorker article about the Sacklers titled “The Family That Built an Empire of Pain,” Patrick Radden Keefe noted the Sacklers were well-known for their philanthropy.
The Sacklers reportedly donated $3.5 million to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City in 1974 to create the Sackler Wing, where the Ancient Egyptian Temple of Dendur sits.
On May 15, 2019, however, the Met announced it would stop taking gifts from the Sacklers.
Many other institutions including nonprofits, museums, and universities have recently cut ties with the Sackler family over the opioid crisis.
There’s a Sackler Center at the Guggenheim in New York City, as well as a Sackler Educational Lab at the American Museum of Natural History.
- Billy Farrell/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images
The family’s influence on art extends beyond New York City. There’s a Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.
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According to Esquire, at Yale University, there’s a Raymond and Beverly Sackler Institute for Biological, Physical and Engineering Sciences and a Richard Sackler and Jonathan Sackler Professorship of Internal Medicine.
And in London, there’s the Serpentine Sackler Gallery.
There’s even a type of rose named after a Sackler.
- Getty Images
Some have suggested the Sacklers should instead put their money toward helping those affected by opioid addiction, The New Yorker’s Patrick Radden Keefe reported.