Reading about the rise and fall of the Sacklers, I kept thinking about the futurism of the 1950s. I had been to Futureland in Disney this past fall and it reminded me how obsessed people were in the post-war world with discovering things that dramatically enhanced life. This isn’t a bad sentiment to have, I suppose. I’d love nothing more than a robot butler to cook my food and clean up after me.
But how does one deal with pain?
It calls to mind Linda Fairstein and the Central Park Five: she was elected to be tougher on rapists. This was what she did when she pro(per)secuted those young men. And the Sacklers good intent was to solve the very real problem of getting mental illness solutions away from barbaric insane asylums.
But that leads to the futurist aspect: what if one pill could solve anything? What if pain could be managed by a simple swallow?
Throw a healthcare system that rewards capitalism uber alles and you have the makings of an opioid epidemic.
It’s somewhat unfair (and a tad anti-Semitic) to blame the entire crisis on the Sacklers. There are so many contributing factors. But as Patrick Redden Keefe demonstrates: these were the modern day Pablo Escobars. They put profits over people. They ignored all evidence that their product was destroying and taking lives. And they laundered their reputation through museums and universities.
Keefe is as stellar as always, though I thought Say Nothing was much better. This one could have been better organized and managed the transitions between opioid facts and Sackler family drama. But it’s still an essential read, like everything he writes. Just don’t miss the subtext here: this doesn’t treat the Sacklers as the Final Boss of the opioid crisis. It instead shows how a system allowed the Sacklers to thrive, requiring a significant amount of public and legal pushback before they faced a modicum of responsibility.