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The OxyContin catastrophe highlights a big failure in policy

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A new slogan on the American political left — “every billionaire is a policy failure” — links economic inequality to governmental error.

Whether the claim is true is a good question. Billionaires include everyone from Harry Potter’s creator, J.K. Rowling, to the wizard of Omaha, Warren Buffett.

Then again, the ranks of the superwealthy include one Richard S. Sackler, and his family, whose assets, shared among 20 people, total $14 billion, according to a 2016 estimate by Forbes magazine. This fortune’s foundation is billions of dollars in sales of OxyContin, the prescription opioid notorious for helping to trigger the nation’s epidemic of addiction beginning two decades ago.

Sackler has been in the news because of revelations about his previously undisclosed personal role in the marketing of OxyContin pills, which first became available in 1996. Some of the details appear in a Massachusetts state lawsuit accusing him and other Sacklers of “illegal deceit” in the promotion of OxyContin. Also, journalists at ProPublica and STAT recently published records from a 2015 Kentucky lawsuit suggesting that Sackler knew Purdue Pharma representatives were misleading physicians to help boost OxyContin sales.

The focus on Sackler’s alleged individual responsibility is long overdue — and causing the universities and museums the Sacklers have supported to reassess the family’s charity. It remains important, however, to understand the policy........

© Washington Post