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Netflix's Painkiller about the Sackler family and the opiod crisis. Is it good for the Jews?

by Rhonda Spivak, Aug 18, 2023


Netflix's newly released six part drama series  "Painkiller" shines a light on the  ultra wealthy Jewish Sackler family and their company Purdue Pharma, which developed  and aggressively marketed  the opioid and addictive drug OxyContin. The series says at its close that 300,000 people died due to their addiction to OxyContin, a drug that is part of the heroin family, that was first launched in the mid-nineties. The Sacklers made at least $10 billion from the sale of Oxycontin, NPR reported. Although at the time of this writing inone of the Sacklers have ever been charged with a crime, Purdu Pharma and some members of the family has been named in a staggering number of  civil lawsuits. The Sacklers that are in the Netflix series  are clearly portrayed as greedy, uncaring, heartless-- only out to maximize profit, at the expense of otherws. Do they make Jews look good? Absolutely not.


‘Painkiller  “is based on Patrick Radden Keefe's New Yorker article and former New York Times reporter Barry Meier's book on the Sacklers and the opioid crisis

The first generation of Sackler brothers were born in Brooklyn to Jewish immigrant parents, and all three later became physicians, studying in Scotland as Jews were not allowed into medical schools in the United States. Arthur, the oldest, eventually pursued a lucrative career in pharmaceutical marketing.

Dr Richard Sackler, a second generation Sackler (played by Matthew Broderick on the Netflix series)  was the head of Purdue Pharma when the company released OxyContin, and is portrayed as particularly develish.  He appears especially skilled and astute at marketing the drug, by getting young beautiful women who are paid well to convince doctors to  increase their prescriptions of OxyContin and  to use higher and higher doses of the drug, and to ignore any possibilities of its addictive behaviour.

In 2003,  Richard, mired in controversy, stepped down as president of the notorious pharmaceutical company. 


According to The Guardian, Richard and two other family members attended a virtual hearing at US bankruptcy court in March 2022 as part of Purdue Pharma's backruptcy proceedings, where he was forced to listen to highly emotional statements given by some two dozen people whose lives were personally impacted by the opioid crisis.



Eight members of the Sackler family were  named  as defendants in a 2019 suit filed by the state of New York against Purdue Pharma. The complaint alleged that the "catastrophe" of the opioid epidemic in the state occurred since Purdue Pharma, the Sacklers, and other drug manufacturers and distributors acted fraudulently and illegally "in order to profiteer from the plague they knew would be unleashed."


There is a  proposed settlement that would enable Purdue Pharma to restructure as a different company, with the Sackler family surrendering control and donating up to $6 billion in profits to opiod crisis relief. The agreement would also prevent the Sacklers from being held personally liable as individuals from lawsuits.


But recently, at the Biden administration's request, the Supreme Court temporarily blocked the agreement, on the basis  that the Sacklers should not be entitled to protection from opioid-related civil lawsuits. It remains to be seen how this matter will end. 



The name Sackler, which had previously, been associated with philanthropy to art and cultural institutions is now mud.  In 2019, three museums — the National Portrait Gallery, the Tate art galleries, and the Guggenheim — started to refuse donations from the Sackler family. Museums such as  the  Victoria and Albert Museum in Londonthe Louvre in Paris, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York — have removed the Sackler name from their buildings.Oxford University announced in May 2023 that its "university buildings, spaces, and staff positions" funded by Sackler family donations would no longer bear the family's name. The university said it had the "full support" of the Sackler family in the renaming.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.