In the middle of Patrick Radden Keefe’s Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty, there’s a pause. The author recounts how, one day, he opened his mail to find an anonymous package containing a thumb drive laden with previously private court documents, depositions, data. All that accompanied it was a small slip of paper, on which was written, by hand, this quote from The Great Gatsby: “They were careless people … they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess.”
And what a mess it is that the Sacklers helped make. As most everyone knows by now, the main product of the family’s company, Purdue, was the opioid OxyContin. As Radden Keefe recounts, “More Americans [have] lost their lives from opioid overdoses than had died in all of the wars the country had fought since World War II.” This is all the more notable given that, before OxyContin, there was no opioid crisis.