One of my first jobs in journalism was as the arts correspondent of the Daily Telegraph. I’d hop on my motorbike in my greasy leathers (which I used to wear around the office, much to my then editor Max Hastings’s consternation) and zoom off to all manner of exhibition and gallery openings, many of them somehow related to the name Sackler.
The Sackler family at the time were the world’s greatest arts philanthropists, with galleries and museums and rooms named after them from New York, London and Paris to the Far East. Like almost everyone, I had no idea of the source of their apparently limitless wealth. But I knew for sure that the Sacklers were a good thing, for art is beautiful and philanthropy admirable, right?
That, though, was another time and another world. Today, I find myself much more in sympathy with the people I would have dismissed back then as rabid, chippy, leftie loons: the ones who say that philanthropy is too often a laundering opportunity for tainted money. This is definitely the case with some of that Sackler dosh and I can say this with some confidence that I won’t be sued because Hulu (available on Disney+) has made an epic docudrama about it called Dopesick.
Dopesick is set during the opioid epidemic (still ongoing) which, since the 1990s, has claimed well over half a million lives in the US (ten times more Americans than were killed in the Vietnam War) and ruined those of millions more. The Sackler family, through their company Purdue Pharma, aggressively marketed one of the worst of these prescription drugs, OxyContin.
OxyContin was sold as a miracle cure for pain, superior to any of the morphine-based drugs on the market because it wasn’t addictive.