July 14, 2021 – Though they are widely reviled for profiting from a public health crisis that has resulted in the death of half a million Americans, they have used their money and influence to play our system like a harp. It is hardly news that our society treats people like Mr. Washington with sledgehammer vengeance and people like the Sacklers with velvet gloves. But it’s worth asking: How did they pull this off?

For a long time, the families of Raymond and Mortimer Sackler simply evaded scrutiny, pruning their public image so that people knew about the philanthropic contributions like the Sackler Library at Oxford but not about the source of their wealth. After the press started writing stories, in 2001, about how OxyContin had given rise to a wave of addiction, high-price spin doctors labored to keep the Sackler name out of the controversy.

As the death toll associated with OxyContin grew, Purdue continued to argue in its marketing campaign that the drug was rarely addictive. When journalists raised tough questions, the company sent its lawyers to intervene with their editors. This “can I see your manager” approach works even with law enforcement. In 2006, federal prosecutors in Virginia were preparing to charge Purdue with felonies. They focused on three senior lieutenants who worked for the company, expecting them to flip on the Sacklers — the ultimate target, according to the lead prosecutor — when faced with potential prison time. But Purdue had enlisted two former U.S. attorneys, Rudy Giuliani and Mary Jo White. Ms. White telephoned Paul McNulty, who was then the deputy attorney general. “It’s Mary Jo White,” Mr. McNulty recalled recently. “It’s somebody who thought of herself as having access.”



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