At some point or another, a scandal touches every industry; medicine is no exception. But seldom has one name scorched so many great cultural institutions as that of the Sackler family. The affected museums, universities, and foundations that were beneficiaries of the Sackler family’s largesse include: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Tate Gallery, The Smithsonian, the Guggenheim, Yale, The New York Academy of Sciences, and other renowned institutions.
The crisis of conscience experienced by these institutions and also the righteous anger of the attorney generals across the nation who are suing both members of the family, as well as the family-owned company, Purdue Pharma, was caused by the misuse of OxyContin, the company’s best-selling product. The irony is that this medicine, hailed as a wonder drug, offered doctors a way to alleviate severe pain suffered by countless patients including those with cancer and terminal illnesses.
Both Purdue and members of the family have been accused of aggressive, reckless, and even criminal marketing of the drug; including encouraging their sales force to ignore the practice of unethical doctors who ran infamous pill mills. As a result, this former “miracle drug” has become a symbol of the most despicable kind of corporate greed. Although some might argue that Purdue and the Sacklers have become scapegoats for a society that has failed to treat a decades-long catastrophe in a responsible, let alone effective way.
The discussion entered the mainstream with an article in The New Yorker magazine, “The Family That Built an Empire of Pain,” by Patrick Radden Keefe. Since its publication in October 30, 2017, the story of OxyContin and its role in our nation’s very real “opioid crisis” has only grown more intense.
As a company working at the leading edge of clinical toxicology, Acutis has developed innovative technologies and science and advanced methodologies that enable our medical and drug treatment clients to quickly identify the misuse of OxyContin, as well as other prescription and illicit drugs, including natural and semisynthetic opioids, synthetic opioids, methadone, fentanyl, tramadol, and heroin.
Throughout our collaborations with doctors and our peers in the industry, our conversations have moved outside the lab and into the culture at large. These conversations have made us extremely aware of all that’s at risk by ignoring the real problem.
First, there is the complexity of managing pain, an imperfect art that physicians and others who help suffering people must practice. Second, these professionals do their work fully aware of the frailty of these human beings and their susceptibility to addiction.
The New Yorker’s investigation brought to the surface countless intersecting dynamics that help us understand a cause of crisis—from Purdue’s aggressive marketing practices and the greed of a small number of doctors, to the desperate financial situations of patients who found themselves in possession of a valuable commodity. We also learned a great deal of the role these drugs play in the lives of men and women living in depressed, largely rural and impoverished places.
The story of the Tate Gallery’s and other’s repudiation of new funding by the Sackler trusts, as well as the noisy, even vengeful protests, led by the artist Nan Goldin make for a good story. That said, Acutis has never chased headlines. In fact, we are saddened by the growing number of lawsuits, both those brought by Attorney Generals and also litigators on behalf of their clients. Some settlements have already been made and others will be litigated with the expectation of reclaiming some of the costs related to the 1,000s of deaths attributed to OxyContin.
But we think the emphasis on the Sackler Family and OxyContin, which is still, when used as prescribed, a great help to people suffering from terrible pain, is misguided.
As a company intimately familiar with the workings and expectations of physicians and substance-abuse practitioners and facilities, Acutis refuses to be distracted by sensational news. Nor will we point our finger at a convenient villain.
Few things are as seductive as watching the mighty fall, or the opportunity to turn up our noses at “filthy lucre,” or witness the humbling of the glamorous art world. That said, we will leave the schadenfreude and moralizing to politicians, activists, and cultural critics.
Our task as a clinical toxicology lab is to continually refine our science and technology to provide our clients with the best tools to address the real threats to our individual and collective well-being. We will judge ourselves solely by the following criteria: The precision of our results, delivered in the most timely manner, which together enables our clients in the healthcare community to provide the most appropriate treatment. This is our work and no news, no matter how sensational, will distract us from it