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.