The Vast Fortune and Misfortunes of the Sackler Family That 'Dopesick' Is Based On
One thing history teaches us is that certain tragedies are avoidable. One of those is the opioid crisis, declared an emergency in the United States.
Thanks to the Sackler family and Purdue Pharma, millions of people got addicted to opioids due to false advertising as to what their new “miracle drug,” OxyContin, really is. Now, a new Hulu series, Dopesick, takes us inside the crisis and the family who started it all.
The Sackler family is more than just a rich family who started a tragic crisis — they’re an entity. A looming shadow of the greed that pervades America. And now, despite their unpopular position in the world, “the Sackler family” is a household name. So who’s even in the Sackler family and where are they now?
The Sackler family is one of America’s largest and richest families.
Even after a myriad of lawsuits, the Sackler family still holds the title as one of America’s wealthiest families. Made up of over 40 members between descendants from the three original Sackler brothers, its wealth and heirs now span several generations.
The oldest of the three brothers, Arthur, passed away in 1987 before OxyContin was even invented. However, he did spearhead the evolution of pharmaceutical advertising, as well as the marketing of Librium and Valium.
As a doctor, he wanted to move away from the more intrusive treatments of the 1940s, such as electroshock therapy, which is why he was a staunch supporter of prescription medicine. On the other hand, a lot of the current opioid endemic can be traced back to his practices.
Arthur’s two younger brothers, Mortimer and Raymond, took over Purdue after Arthur’s death. The two of them spearheaded the creation and evolution of OxyContin, and several of their descendants were still on the Purdue Pharma board up until 2019, when a law settlement forced them to relinquish their positions.
However, despite taking a step back, the Sackler family has amassed so much wealth over the past century that they are still one of the world’s wealthiest families. They currently have a net worth of about $10 billion collectively, which is more than enough money for any family, no matter how large.
In 2021, it was reported that in exchange for a $4.5 billion settlement, selling their pharmaceutical holdings, and forfeiting their equity in Purdue, that the Sackler family would receive lifetime immunity from any civil liability.
However, one law firm, Kleinberg Kaplan, has already appealed this despite the judge advising against an appeal. So it seems that the Sacklers’ fate is still to be determined.
The descendants of the Sackler family are mostly just living their lives.
As far as Arthur’s descendants go, they seem to have distanced themselves from the rest of the Sackler family, claiming that they had no part in the current opioid crisis.
Arthur’s daughter, Elizabeth Sackler, is the benefactor of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum. While many art institutions have rejected donations from the Sackler family and rescinded their nomenclature since the crisis, this Brooklyn Museum center remains intact.
As far as Mortimer’s family goes, he had seven children, three of whom were involved in Purdue Pharma. Many of his children have gone on to support their own philanthropic ventures, maybe in hopes of righting some of the wrongs of the Sackler family. Mortimer’s son Michael is a filmmaker, and his daughters Sophie and Samantha married into even more wealth.
Raymond Sackler had two sons and a grandson who was very involved in Purdue. His grandson, David, is now married to Joss Sackler, and together, they’re very involved in the fashion industry.
Raymond’s son Jonathan was a major advocate for conservative education reform and charter schools (many education advocates find charter schools problematic), but he has since also passed away. Jonathan’s daughter, Madeleine, is a filmmaker who made documentaries about school lotteries and the prison system.
However, one family member has been largely forgotten: Robert "Bobby" Sackler. One of Mortimer’s sons, Bobby had a life-threatening pattern of addiction, and died by suicide at the age of 24. But he's largely gone unmentioned by his wealthy family.
The Sackler family may be wealthy, but wealth apparently isn’t everything.
Stream Dopesick on Hulu to learn more about the Sackler family and their role in the opioid crisis.