Patrick Radden Keefe’s Empire of Pain: the secret history of the Sackler dynasty is one of the most upsetting, important books I have ever read. If you want to learn how America’s opioid crisis began and you aren’t afraid to be horrified by the corruption and dysfunction in American government, Empire of Pain is a must read.
In Empire of Paine Radden Keefe does a masterful job of walking us through the history of the Sackler family, who spent decades cultivating a persona of noble propriety while building a fortune by lying. The author shows how Arthur Sackler, the patriarch of the dynasty, largely vented the horrible reality of prescription drug advertising, especially to doctors. And, as his family would later do with Oxycontin Arthur Sackler lied to the FDA, made up evidence, and even used fictional doctors to make mythical claims about drugs.
While the story of the Sacklers is important and entertaining, the story Radden Keefe tells in Empire of Pain is both necessary and horrifying because of what it shows of the corruption money can buy and the privilege that corruption can afford. Even worse, Empire of Pain will give anyone a reason to mistrust the United States government and many institutions we are led to believe are trustworthy.
From the FDA letting the Sacklers make claims about Oxycontin that have never been studied through the Department of “Justice” twice refusing to indict members of the family as political favors, Empire of Pain tells a maddening story. But when you add so-called plaintiffs attorneys wanting to settle for their one/third instead of pursuing justice, and your stomach will regularly turn.
Empire of Pain will leave you angry and frustrated. I hope it doesn’t leave you feeling hopeless. Honestly, reading it left me feeling dirty and struggling to find reasons to believe in America or that real change is possible.