The Vast Fortune and Misfortunes of the Sackler Family That 'Dopesick' Is Based On (2024)

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The Vast Fortune and Misfortunes of the Sackler Family That 'Dopesick' Is Based On (1)

By Jamie Lerner

Aug. 7 2023, Updated 1:14 p.m. ET

The Vast Fortune and Misfortunes of the Sackler Family That 'Dopesick' Is Based On (2)

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. Both the Hulu series Dopesick and Netflix's Painkiller take us inside the crisis and the family who started it all.

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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?

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The Sackler family is still 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.

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The Vast Fortune and Misfortunes of the Sackler Family That 'Dopesick' Is Based On (4)

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. The company had also declared bankruptcy during that same year.

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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 $14-$15 billion collectively, which is more than enough money for any family, no matter how large.

In 2023, CNN reported that the Sackler family had agreed to a $6 billion settlement to fight the opioid crisis in exchange for the family to receive lifetime immunity from past and future civil liability. The family also had to sell their pharmaceutical holdings and forfeit their equity in Purdue. The deal between the Sacklers, eight states, and the District of Columbia was agreed upon in March 2023, per CNN.

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Despite their role in causing the opioid epidemic, many members of the Sackler family have moved now with their lives, except they now have a few less billions in the bank.

To further punish the Sacklers for their role in the opioid crisis, the deal also allows for organizations and institutions to remove the family name should it be attached to scholarships, buildings, or programs. CNN notes that the family must first be notified of the removal and that any statements made do not denigrate the family.

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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.

The Vast Fortune and Misfortunes of the Sackler Family That 'Dopesick' Is Based On (5)

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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.

The Vast Fortune and Misfortunes of the Sackler Family That 'Dopesick' Is Based On (6)

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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.

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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.

You can now stream Dopesick on Hulu to learn more about the Sackler family and their role in the opioid crisis. Netflix's Painkiller series, set to release on Aug. 10, 2023, dives into the family behind the Purdue Pharma brand and their motives before their world came crumbling down.

The Vast Fortune and Misfortunes of the Sackler Family That 'Dopesick' Is Based On (2024)
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