A reckoning is underway regarding the tens of thousands of Americans who have died from overdoses, and the lives destroyed from addiction to prescription opioids. Many companies that profited greatly from the excessive sales of painkillers are now reaching settlements that will force drugmakers, distributors and other firms to pay billions to governments and survivors.

One of those companies belongs to two branches of a single family: the Sacklers. Until recently, they were better known for their support for the arts and higher education than their connection to the opioid crisis through their ownership of Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin. As much of this litigation wraps up, it’s tempting to blame them for the entire opioid crisis. Although they did play a pivotal role, David Herzberg, a University at Buffalo historian who researches addictive prescription drugs, argues that Purdue’s misbehavior points to broader problems in the pharmaceutical industry. Until those problems are fixed, he warns, “the unhappy history of addictive prescription drugs will keep repeating itself.”

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Emily Schwartz Greco

Philanthropy + Nonprofits Editor

It’s too easy to sell dangerous prescription drugs. Peter Dazeley/The Image Bank via Getty Images

The opioid crisis isn’t just the Sacklers’ fault – and making Purdue Pharma pay isn’t enough on its own to fix the pharmaceutical industry’s deeper problems

David Herzberg, University at Buffalo

Making them pay is important but it’s not going to stop drugmakers from endangering public health.

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