sackler courtyard london JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images

Dirty Money and Tainted Philanthropy

The family that owns Purdue Pharma, which has fueled America's opioid crisis, has used its wealth to promote the arts. Instead, they should be donating to groups that reduce suffering anywhere in the world, if possible on the same scale as the suffering brought about by the accumulation of their wealth.

MELBOURNE – In 2017, life expectancy in the United States fell for the third successive year. The decline is occurring because an increase in the death rate for middle-aged whites is offsetting lower mortality for children and the elderly. So, why are more middle-aged American whites dying?

The Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton have pointed to the opioid epidemic as an important factor. Figures from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that from 1999 to 2017, almost 218,000 people died from overdoses related to prescription opioids. During that period, the number of such deaths quintupled.

The drug most responsible for this catastrophic abuse of prescription opioids is OxyContin, produced by Purdue Pharma LP, which is reported to have made more than $31 billion from OxyContin sales. The dominance of OxyContin among prescription opioids was not due to any inherent advantages; several carefully controlled trials concluded that it had none. It owed its success, instead, to Purdue’s aggressive marketing, pioneered by Arthur Sackler.

We hope you're enjoying Project Syndicate.

To continue reading, subscribe now.


Get unlimited access to PS premium content, including in-depth commentaries, book reviews, exclusive interviews, On Point, the Big Picture, the PS Archive, and our annual year-ahead magazine.;
  1. velasco94_YoustGettyImages_headswithbooksstaring Youst/Getty Images

    The Experts We Need

    Andrés Velasco

    Policy gurus spend too much time with others like them – top civil servants, high-flying journalists, successful businesspeople – and too little time with ordinary voters. If they could become “humble, competent people on a level with dentists,” as John Maynard Keynes once suggested, voters might identify with them and find them trustworthy.

  2. benami152_KiyoshiOtaPoolGettyImages_trumpmelaniaeatinginJapan Kiyoshi Ota - Pool/Getty Images

    Don’t Feed the Donald

    Shlomo Ben-Ami

    For Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, appeasing US President Donald Trump is not so much a choice as a necessity: he must prove to Japan’s people and their neighbors, particularly the Chinese, that he knows how to keep Trump on his side. But Abe's strategy won't work with a US administration as fickle and self-serving as Trump’s.

Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated cookie policy and privacy policy.