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Chris Melnick

Chris Melnick: Reads and Watches

January 1, 2022

[Editor's note: Chris Melnick is the Executive Director of Share the Magic Book Program, which is a federally registered charity that distributes books, from books for babies to adults, fiction and non-fiction to underserved communities in Manitoba.  To date, Share the Magic has given away over 630,000 books at an estimated value of over $4.2 million. You can follow Share the Magic on Facebook by searching "Share the Magic Book Program"]



If you, as I have many times, wondered about just how the current opioid crisis got started, I have The Read for you.  Empire of Pain: The secret history of the Sackler dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe masterfully tells the story of the Sacklers, from their humble beginnings to becoming a family of unimaginable wealth.


        Isaac + Sophie Sackler, both newcomers to the United States in the early 1900’s, operated a small grocery store in New York City and had three sons – Arthur, Mortimer + Raymond, all of whom became doctors.  Wanting to expand their horizons into the pharmaceutical universe, the three brothers jointly purchased a small pharmaceutical company called Purdue Frederick, whose best-selling product was Senokot.  Through family dynamics, leaving Arthur out of the picture, Mortimer and Raymond decided they would like to get into pain relief and eventually ended-up aggressively marketing an opium containing drug called Oxycontin.  The steps to this making this decision, the Sackler’s incredible denial that Oxycontin is a main element in today’s opioid crisis (Even though opium is one, if not the most addictive substances on earth, the Sackler’s standard line is that, it is not the drug that is the problem, it is losers who would find themselves addicted to some other drug, if not Oxycontin), the legal fallout and most importantly the cost of the suffering and loss of human lives of those became addicted and the pain inflicted upon those who love them, is carefully spelt out by Keefe, complete with sources and foot notes.


        This is a very readable book, so don’t let the length deter you.  I could not put it down for the first week of reading and then had to take a week’s break, as I was overwhelmed with what I learning.  Eventually I read all 755 pages of the large print copy, including acknowledgements and a note on sources.


No wonder this was Heather Reisman’s, Chapters/Indigo CEO, top pick of 2021.


        A companion book, which I have not yet read, is Pain Killer: An empire of deceit and the origin of America’s opiod epidemic by Barry Meier.


        Empire of Pain is available at the Winnipeg Public Library in the following formats:


  • Digital format
  • eAudiobook
  • Book – 338.761615 Sackler 2021
  • Large type book – LT 338.761615 Sackler 2021


        Pain Killer is available at the Winnipeg Public Library in the following format:


  • Book – 362.299 Meier 2018
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