The Sacking of America

White pill bottle with spilled out white pills on black countertop

The Sacklers, Dr. Feelgood, and OxyContin

Before there was $6 billion about to be injected into the US economy as reparations for the opioid crisis by the owners of Purdue Pharma, someone else toiled in the same vineyard. They called him Dr. Feelgood.

However, far from being sued for damages – as were Purdue’s owners, the Sackler family – Dr. Feelgood was a hero to a cadre of A-List celebrities, beginning with President John F. Kennedy. In terms of magnitude compared to Purdue’s, Dr. Feelgood’s list of patients was small. They were primarily people in public life and stars in the arts who sometimes felt they needed something to help them shine a bit brighter or were in pain. They craved an effortless quick fix, like a shot of the Doc’s pick-me-up.

The shot concocted by the doctor, whose real name was Max Jacobson, contained methamphetamine, a powerful stimulant that enters the brain and causes many physiological and psychological changes.

Linda Dolin, MD medical director at The Sylvia Brafman Mental Health Center in Tamarac, Florida, explained: “Methamphetamine enters the central nervous system, and in the early days, you’re not exhausted anymore; you feel powerful and euphoric.” She continued, “Who wouldn’t want to feel that way…especially if you’re in the public eye, must make a speech or perform? She paused, then added, “It is devastating to many people and their families that it took this long to become public.”

In some semblance of justice, Dr. Jacobson’s medical license was revoked in 1975. In 2023, in the OxyContin case, it appears that calculations have been made – a monetary value placed on human life and a price tag affixed to justice…$6 billion.

After years of shameful, shameless marketing tactics that made the opioid OxyContin a household word, after so many cases of drug abuse and addiction that resulted in countless deaths that spawned numerous lawsuits, it seems a deal is on the table: In return for $6 billion, individual members of the Sackler family will be protected from civil suits.

Commenting on these terms, Ben Brafman, co-founder of The Sylvia Brafman Clinic, said, “Six billion is a hefty sum. And it can do a lot to ameliorate some of the suffering caused by OxyContin.” He continued, “It can help pay funeral expenses for victims of the drug, and it can help grandparents pay the bills for the orphaned grandchildren they are raising. And, most important, in the future, it can be used for education…spreading the facts about drugs and what a two-edged sword they can be.”

According to the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) and other sources, OxyContin is a semi-synthetic narcotic used as an analgesic (pain reliever) to treat medium to severe pain. It became a drug of choice among the narcotic-abusing, narcotic-addicted population because it quickly triggers feelings of relaxation and euphoria, taken orally or by injection.

Among other effects, though, it can induce severe breathing problems, fainting, or coma. These can result in death if not treated with an antidote, usually naloxone. Even after these catastrophic effects became known, the push to sell more and more Oxy continued. The unimaginable profits that accrued enabled the Sacklers to bestow beneficence upon public cultural icons in the United States and abroad. Among the institutions that benefitted were New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim, the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., hospitals, institutions of higher learning, and many others. (It should be noted that several of these have begun removing plaques and other evidence of the Sackler name on wings, rooms, and special exhibits.)

A case could be made that Dr. Feelgood also contributed to the arts by treating authors of the caliber of novelist Truman Capote and playwright Tennessee Williams, luminaries of the music world Leonard Bernstein, Maria Callas, Thelonius Monk, and Elvis Presley, film producers Billy Wilder, David O. Selznick, and Cecil B. DeMille, actors from TV, Broadway, the stage and motion pictures Marilyn Monroe, Ingrid Bergman, Bob Cummings, Elizabeth Taylor, Humphrey Bogart, and Lauren Bacall.

President Kennedy, who had Addison’s Disease and chronic back pain, was administered injections numerous times. It has been alleged that “Dr. Feelgood” was coined by JFK’s Secret Service as the doctor’s code name. So dependent did JFK become on his painkiller that the physician was in the presidential entourage to Vienna for the 1961 summit with USSR President Nikita Khrushchev. Eventually, JFK was warned by the federal Food and Drug Administration about the adverse effects of the serum’s components. It is claimed that he replied, “I don’t care if it’s made of horse piss. It works.”

Evidently, this devil-may-care attitude was equally held toward the OxyContin formula by the owners, manufacturers, marketers, perhaps some providers, retailers, and consumers who became abusers and, ultimately, victims. To sum up, where our nation stands at this juncture today, the following statement has been issued by Ben Brafman, a longtime professional in the field of addiction: “Let us hope that wise choices are made in spending the six-billion-dollar settlement against OxyContin’s owners. The same goes for the additional estimated fifty-billion-plus dollars pledged by other pharmacies, distributors, and manufacturers for opioid education.”

“Let us hope, too, that the world has learned from the opioid scourge and the revelations about it in the courtroom. The lesson is what we in the mental health profession have always been preaching…that drugs have tremendous power. In trained, experienced, knowing hands, they can help and cure. But when misused, they can enslave you.”

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