A Shocking Telling of the Opioid Crisis in Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe

Empire of Pain

My Review:

The opioid crisis was a disaster not just national but permeated into other countries, impacting people, communities, politics, the arts, education, businesses, the economy and more. I didn’t really know much about ripple effect that was derived from greed, lies, secrecy and denial until I watched Dopesick on Hulu with Michael Keaton, and then tackled Empire of Pain, this 535 page book, and I am so glad I did.

The Sackler family seemed to start out in the early 1900s as a benevolent and generous group that shared their wealth for good causes and were willing and actually insistent on their name being attached to all the positive things they supported. Many museums and hospitals had Sackler galleries, wings and exhibits, making their name synonymous with generosity and charity. As time went on and the younger generation acquired power and it seemed like they were on the board at several pharmaceutical companies, including Purdue Pharma, that were manufacturing and distributing opioids. They created a sales force and developed a training program that spread information that was less than truthful when it came to safety of the drugs, proper dosages and possibilities of addiction. They targeted rural areas where high percentages of the residents had chronic pain and reached out to the prescribing doctors and pharmacies to sell OxyContin. They utilized personal connections with folks at the FDA and in government to their advantage and even when it became clear their drug was causing problems with the users, the members of the Sackler family who were on the board of Purdue Pharma denied any knowledge of negative feedback and went full force to sell as much of the dangerous drug as possible to the most vulnerable audiences.

Along with all the unnecessary deaths and unlikely addicts that were associated with Oxy, there were many other victims along the way. Many were true believers in the product… doctors who continued to prescribe and believe in the FDA, the pharmaceutical companies and the Sackler family, employees of Purdue Pharma who put their trust in their employers and the product. There was unending deceit and the ripple effect of this crisis continues today. I learned so much from Empire of Pain and appreciate how Patrick Radden Keefe, the author, pieced together the full picture over many years with all his research. He spoke to many people involved, aside from the Sackler family, who declined to meet with him. Although the recounting of the development and sale of OxyContin is disturbing, the turns of events were fascinating and I highly recommend this book.

Patrick Radden Keefe

About the Author:

Patrick Radden Keefe is an award-winning staff writer at The New Yorker magazine and author of the New York Times bestsellers Empire of Pain and Say Nothing, as well as two earlier nonfiction books: The Snakehead and Chatter. His most recent book is Rogues: True Stories of Grifters, Killers, Rebels and Crooks.

Patrick started contributing to The New Yorker in 2006. He received the National Magazine Award for Feature Writing in 2014. Say Nothing received the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, as well as the Orwell Prize for Political Writing, and was selected by Entertainment Weekly as one of the “10 Best Nonfiction Books of the Decade.” Empire of Pain was awarded the Baillie Gifford Prize for Nonfiction and was a finalist for the FT Business Book of the Year.

He is also the writer and host of WIND OF CHANGE, an 8-part podcast series, which investigates the strange convergence of espionage and heavy metal music during the Cold War, and was named the #1 podcast of 2020 by The Guardian.

Patrick grew up in Dorchester, Massachusetts and went to college at Columbia. He received masters degrees from Cambridge University and the London School of Economics, and a law degree from Yale. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship, and fellowships from the New America Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library.  

He lives in New York.


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