Netflix’s Painkiller: Is Purdue Pharma still in business?

Painkiller. Matthew Broderick as Richard Sackler in episode 101 of Painkiller. Cr. Keri Anderson/Netflix © 2023
Painkiller. Matthew Broderick as Richard Sackler in episode 101 of Painkiller. Cr. Keri Anderson/Netflix © 2023 /

The newest limited series to arrive on Netflix comes on Aug. 10 with Painkiller, the latest scripted telling of the rise of the OxyContin crisis in the United States. Following a fictional lawyer named Eddie Flowers as she recounts her investigation into the opioid, we learn how the drug was first developed by Purdue Pharma and how they got away with selling it, despite how dangerous it is. The opioid crisis has caused hundreds of thousands of deaths and the Sackler family is to blame.

Purdue Pharma was founded in 1892 by doctors John Purdue Gray and George Frederick Bingham before it was sold decades later in 1952 to two other doctors, brothers Raymond and Mortimer Sackler. As we learn in Painkiller, their older brother Arthur Sackler took a leadership role at the company, and after his death, his nephew Richard Sackler swooped in with an idea to make the family billions. Ethics were seemingly not considered in their plans, only their own financial gain.

And that’s when OxyContin entered the picture. The new Netflix series takes a dramatized approach to the story, changing some names and events, but the truth remains that Purdue developed a drug that has a high potential for drug addiction. And somehow, they got it approved by the FDA.

As more and more people started overdosing and dying from OxyContin, suspicion turned to controversy which turned to lawsuits and major legal trouble for the Sacklers. So now in 2023, what is the state of Purdue Pharma? And did Richard Sackler and his family get into trouble?

What happened to Purdue Pharma?

Investigations into Purdue Pharma began shortly after OxyContin became popular in the late 1990s and the company has since been sued thousands of times. While Purdue filed for bankruptcy and was dissolved in 2021, ordered to pay $4.5 billion, the status of its bankruptcy is still pending. As of 2023, the company is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which means they can continue operating while they figure out how to pay off their debt.

Unfortunately, once Purdue Pharma pays off the $4.5 billion, the Sacklers will basically be free of liability for their wrongdoings. According to a report from NPR, the company, in whatever new form it takes, will still be able to sell opioids, something that has seriously angered activists and those following the case closely. Those who came up with the deal, however, reassure the profits will go toward drug treatment programs.

Needless to say, it’s a complicated situation. The Sackler family still maintains their innocence and say that they’ve done nothing wrong, and the family members are still billionaires. They’ve never even faced criminal charges, which is pretty shocking.

To learn more about the Sackler family and the irreversible damage they’ve caused, you can watch Painkiller on Netflix, Dopesick on Hulu, the two-part documentary The Crime of the Century on Max, and the Academy Award-nominated documentary All the Beauty and the Bloodshed on Max. The Netflix series is based on the 2017 New Yorker article “The Family That Built an Empire of Pain” and the 2018 book Pain Killer: An Empire of Deceit and the Origin of America’s Opioid Epidemic.

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