THERE'S A MOMENT in the Hulu miniseries Dopesick in which a Drug Enforcement Administration officer walks into her supervisor’s office to talk about the wave of opioid addiction that was, in the early 2000s, already rampant in central Appalachia. Earlier she’d been told that the higher-ups weren’t interested in “pill mill” doctors and pharmacy burglaries. They wanted to go after the cartel. Well, says Agent Bridget Meyer (played by Rosario Dawson), she’s found the cartel—and proceeds to recite the Stamford, Conn., address of Purdue Pharma Inc.
Over the past few years, documents uncovered in various lawsuits have made it clear that Purdue Pharma, privately owned by members of the Sackler family, was “the cartel” behind a plague of addiction and overdose that has so far killed more than a half-million Americans. And the kingpin of this cartel was Purdue’s Richard Sackler, former company president and co-chair of the board of directors.
In 1996, Sackler conceived an ambition to cure the world of chronic pain—and multiply the family fortune—with the “miracle drug” OxyContin, a powerful time-released painkiller. Sackler hired an army of attractive young sales reps and aimed them at small-town doctors in parts of the country with lots of painful workplace injuries from things like logging and coal mining. Misery, dependency, and death followed as the drug spread unchecked like wildfire for an entire decade.