Back in October 2017, The New Yorker published an article about how one family—the Sackler dynasty—planted the seeds of what became, years later, the worst addiction epidemic in American history. The Sacklers are the people behind Purdue Pharma, known for its prescription painkiller OxyContin—a drug that uses “a chemical cousin of heroin which is up to twice as powerful as morphine,” as the magazine describes it.
With aggressive marketing strategies that changed the prescribing habits of American doctors, Purdue built a multi-billion dollar empire—all the while creating a legion of addicts. Since 1999, opioid overdoses killed roughly 200,000 Americans – 64,000 in 2016 alone. U.S. President Donald Trump even declared it a public health emergency. Now, as the U.S. tries to slash the consumption of opioids, Purdue Pharma sets its eyes on several other markets—notably Brazil.
A big emerging market for opioids
In Brazil, the Sackler family operates through Mundipharma, a company that has tried hard to help doctors overcome “opiophobia.” For Dr. Tim Ives, a pharmacy professor at the University of North Carolina, however, “[the pharmaceutical industry] is pulling in Brazil the same tricks and lies as they used in the U.S. years ago.” He says that even the term “opiophobia” was coined by drug producers. “Before handing off opioids,” he continues, “doctors must review the literature and make proper physical examinations of patients.”