Company blamed for opioid crisis 'cynical' for selling overdose cure

Pharmaceutical empire behind addictive painkiller OxyContin blamed for US opioid crisis is slammed for selling its overdose cure around the world

  • The Sackler family makes millions selling prescription painkillers in the US
  • Their company Purdue Pharma makes the high-strength opioid OxyContin
  • Affiliated companies sell the OxyContin overdose antidote around the world 
  • Experts said it is ‘deeply cynical’ for the companies to profit at both ends 

Billionaires shouldering the blame for the US opioid crisis have now come under fire for making money off an overdose treatment.

The Sackler family, who own the company which makes the addictive high-strength painkiller OxyContin, are no strangers to scandal.

Facing thousands of lawsuits accusing them of causing soaring drug overdose rates in the US, they now stand accused of profiting from OxyContin’s antidote.

A UK-based company called Mundipharma, owned by the Sacklers, is selling a nasal spray drug named naloxone for around £38 ($50) a dose.

It can be lifesaving for people who have overdosed on painkillers. Experts said it was ‘deeply cynical’ for the wealthy empire to be selling both.

Mundipharma’s Nyxoid nasal spray is reportedly being sold in Europe for more than £38 ($50) per dose – it is the treatment for patients who overdose on a drug called OxyContin, which is made by a company owned by the same family

Numbers of opioid overdose deaths have soared since OxyContin hit the market in 1996, from just 3,442 in 1999 to 17,029 in 2017, official figures show

Critics suggested Nyxoid was overpriced – sometimes going for more than £38 per dose – because its raw ingredient, naloxone, is incredibly cheap

‘If they were trying to find a solution, they would just distribute naloxone for free,’ Stephen Wood, a Harvard University professor, told the Associated Press.

‘They could use all that money they made off opioids to help support a program where they are giving away this life-saving medication.’

The Sackler family’s OxyContin-producing company, Purdue Pharma, is privately-owned and not listed on a stock exchange but has an estimated annual revenue of $3billion (£2.25bn).

Mundipharma, which is based in the English city of Cambridge, is selling its naloxone nasal spray, named Nyxoid, in Europe.

At a medical conference in Italy in October it advertised it with the slogan ‘Be prepared. Get naloxone. Save a life,’ AP reported.

OxyContin is a high-strength painkiller which is addictive and can cause overdoses. The drug, which contains the generic chemical oxycodone hydrochloride, is made by the company Purdue Pharma 

Mundipharma promoted Nyxoid, a new brand of opioid overdose reversal medication, at a medical conference in Italy with the phrase ‘Be prepared. Get naloxone. Save a life’


Purdue Pharma and its owners the Sackler family are offering a settlement of up to $12billion (£9bn) to resolve more than 2,000 lawsuits brought against it for overdoses caused by OxyContin.

The company filed for bankruptcy in September in a bid to help it pay out in the gigantic court battle.

OxyContin is a prescription painkiller produced and sold by Purdue Pharma.

The drug is strong, addictive and was linked to thousands of overdose deaths in 2017.

Since OxyContin, a time-released opioid, was introduced in 1996, addiction and overdoses have surged.

In both 2017 and 2018, opioids were involved in more than 47,000 deaths, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 1999, by comparison, there were fewer than 4,000 opioid overdose deaths.

Purdue’s drugs are just a slice of the opioids prescribed, but critics assign a lot of the blame to the company because it developed both the drug and an aggressive marketing strategy.

According to a lawsuit filed by the Massachusetts attorney general, the company pushed big sales of OxyContin from the start. Doing so meant persuading doctors who had been reluctant to prescribe such strong painkillers that this one was safe.

Some involved in the court cases are not happy about the family trying to pay out and settle before a trial because it could mean Purdue escapes liability.

In a statement in September, the Sackler family said: ‘Like families across America, we have deep compassion for the victims of the opioid crisis.

They said their $12bn (£9bn) settlement would be an ‘historic step towards providing critical resources that address a tragic public health situation.’

The drug has been available for a long time as an injection and is astonishingly cheap – a UN program in Asia is providing it for just $1 (75p) per kit.

But the company says the nasal spray means bystanders could give it if they saw someone overdose.

When people overdose on an opioid such as oxycodone (the generic name of OxyContin) they may pass out and become unable to breathe.

Overdoses involving prescription opioids like OxyContin have soared in the past 20 years.

There were 17,029 recorded by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2017, a 395 per cent rise from 3,442 in 1999.

And the Sacklers’ Purdue Pharma is facing around 2,600 lawsuits implicating its OxyContin in drug users’ deaths.

It applied for bankruptcy status in September after approaching a settlement worth $12billion (£9bn) with local governments across the US.

The nasal drug is cheaper than other ones like it, but experts are unhappy that the Sacklers are profiting from it.

Nyxoid is already being used in Australia, Norway, Sweden and addiction charities in the UK.

The New Zealand Drug Foundation’s executive director, Ross Bell, said: ‘The way that they’ve pushed their opioids initially and now coming up with the expensive kind of antidote – it’s something that just strikes me as deeply, deeply cynical.

‘You’ve got families devastated by this, and a company who sees dollar signs flashing.’

There have been reports of internal plans at Purdue to corner the market by effectively selling both the poison and the antidote for addicts.

But Purdue and Mundipharma deny working together on the issue.

Mundipharma’s Australian arm, which is selling Nyxoid to the government there, told AP: ‘Mundipharma Australia and Purdue Pharma are independent companies.

‘Mundipharma Australia introduced Nyxoid to help meet a clear clinical need.’

MailOnline has contacted Mundipharma International and Purdue Pharma for comment.  

Mundipharma International headquarters are pictured at Cambridge Science Park in England


Purdue Pharma, which is run by some members of the wealthy Sackler family, has made tens of billions on opioid sales. Here is a breakdown of who the Sacklers are, including those who have and haven’t been involved in Purdue Pharma:


Arthur, a doctor and psychiatrist, founded a research laboratory in 1938, but Arthur’s real genius was in marketing and he leveraged it to sell a number of medications, including the anti-anxiety drug, Valium.

He and his younger brothers Mortimer and Raymond owned a small pharma company called Purdue Frederick that they purchased in 1952. That company produced betadine and earwax.

Arthur remained a relatively silent partner in the old Purdue and died in 1987 before it became the company we know it as today.

He never saw any of Purdue’s OxyContin profits. 

He donated the funds to open a number of medical education programs, libraries and museums.

Arthur was inducted into the Medical Marketing Hall of Fame upon his death in 1987. 

After his death in 1987, his brothers bought Arthur’s portion of the company.

One of his four children, daughter Elizabeth, has largely taken over his philanthropy work.

Arthur and his heirs have had no involvement in Purdue Pharma or with OxyContin.   


Mortimer was an American physician and psychiatrist.

He and his brothers, the older Arthur and the younger Raymond published prolific medical research before buying a number of pharmaceutical companies, including, in 1952, Purdue Frederick.

After Arthur’s death Mortimer and Raymond bought out his descendants’ share of Purdue Frederick, and in 1991 they created the company that would become a pain management giant we now know, Purdue Pharma.

Mortimer became a lavish arts patron, known for equally extravagant donations and parties, beginning in the 1970s.

He died in 2010.


Raymond was a doctor like his older brothers, and the three were partners in all things until each of their deaths.   

Together with Mortimer, Raymond found success with their opioid painkiller, OxyContin, which became the Purdue Pharma’s signature drug. 

Raymond was milder and more private than his brother, Mortimer.

Raymond had two children, Richard and Jonathan, before his death last year. 


Mortimer’s eldest daughter with his first wife.   

She was listed as a director of Purdue’s sister company, UK-based Napp Pharamaceutical Holdings, as of December 2016. 

She lives in an apartment in an iconic Upper West Side which she owns.

Its total value is estimated to be more than $122million. 


Kathe is one of the directors of Napp, a UK-based company which also sold OxyContin. 

She owns two suburban properties in Connecticut which are separated by another owned by someone else and she lives in an Upper East Side townhouse with her wife, Susan Shack Sackler.

The house was owned by both Raymond and Mortimer. Their children share it. 

Kathe and Ilene had a brother, Robert, is deceased. 


 They are Raymond and Beverly’s two sons. 

Jonathan and his wife live in Greenwich, Connecticut, in a property next to his mother’s. Richard ‘s former family home is not far away in neighboring Stamford. 

They have a cancer research center named after them at Yale and have both held positions at Purdue.


Richard Sackler followed in his father’s footsteps, getting his medical degree at New York University School of Medicine. 

He came to Purdue after medical school, leading the research and development that ultimately produced the extended release form of OxyContin that would elevate the family’s fortune to previously unfathomable. 

He became president of Purdue in 1991, pioneering marketing campaigns that enticed droves of medical professionals to buy Purdue’s opioid.

Richard became co-chairman in 2003, by which point $1.6 billion in OxyContin had been sold.  

His marketing schemes sparked suspicion, and in 2015, Richard was deposed before his company paid out a $24 million settlement. 

The company appealed in 2017, but the case has not moved forward. 

In addition to his arts philanthropy, Richard’s foundations have donated to controversial causes, including anti-Muslim groups. 


Arthur’s daughter has publicly and persistently attempted to distance herself from branch of her family that has profited from OxyContin. 

Elizabeth is a licensed psychiatrist and well-known philanthropist. 

She is the founder of an eponymous Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum in New York. 

She has previously expressed disgrace for her uncles’ business.

 Elizabeth has previously told ‘I, nor my siblings, nor my children have ever owned or benefited from Purdue Pharma or OxyContin or oxycodone. 

‘It’s another branch of the family.’


 Theresa, 69, owns a $45million Upper East Side apartment building but lives mostly in the UK on a 10-acre estate in the Berkshire countryside. 

She is known in the UK as Dame Theresa Sackler, a title she was awarded for her sustained philanthropy and support of the arts.  

Theresa is more visible than her sister-in-law.  

Beverly, 94, is Raymond’s widow. She lives on a Greenwich, Connecticut waterfront estate which has an estimated land and property value of almost $50million. She also owns a 17-floor Fifth Avenue building in Manhattan. 

When her husband was still alive, they donated the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Institute for Biological, Physical and Engineering Sciences at Yale. It now employs 50 people across 20 departments. 


Mortimer the only son of founding brother Mortimer, Mortimer II’s mother is Gertraud Wimmer, Mortimer’s second wife. 

Mortimer David owns a luxury condo building in Boston and lives in New York City with his 42-year-old wife Jacqueline.

The couple are a regular fixture on the Manhattan social circuit. 


David is intensely private but his wife, Joss, is not. 

She runs the members-only women’s social club, LBV. 

Among its events are group workouts at the model haven gym Dog Pound and talks such as ‘how to have the money talk with your kids.’ 




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