cover image Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty

Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty

Patrick Radden Keefe. Doubleday, $32.50 (560p) ISBN 978-0-385-54568-6

History repeats itself and disaster ensues in this sweeping saga of the rise and fall of the family behind OxyContin, the painkiller widely credited with sparking the opioid epidemic in America. New Yorker staff writer Keefe (Say Nothing) brings three generations of the secretive Sacklers into the light, detailing how marketing techniques%E2%80%94including the co-opting of doctors and FDA regulators, the placement of misleading advertisements and articles in medical journals, and the discrediting of evidence of addiction%E2%80%94pioneered by patriarch Arthur Sackler in the 1960s to sell the tranquilizers Librium and Valium were enhanced by his nephew, Richard Sackler, in the '90s and 2000s to make OxyContin "one of the biggest blockbusters in pharmaceutical history, generating some $35 billion in revenue." Keefe also delves into the Sacklers' "mania" for donating millions to "arts and education institutions," the family's cover-up of a drug-addled son's suicide in 1975, their role in a 1995 New Jersey chemical plant explosion that killed five people, and their draining of company funds as lawsuits related to the opioid crisis mounted. It's an altogether damning portrait ("Unlike a lot of human beings," Keefe writes, "[the Sacklers] didn't seem to learn from what they saw transpiring in the world around them"), richly detailed and vividly written. Readers will be outraged and enthralled in equal measure. (Apr.)