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The Big Pharma Family that Brought Us the Opioid Crisis


David Smart / Shutterstock

If the devil wears Prada, what do America’s most destructive drug pushers wear? They wear smiles. The drug pushers we have in mind here have caused hundreds of thousands of deaths, enough fatalities to decrease overall U.S. life expectancy at birth for the last two years running. Yet no police SWAT teams have pounded down any doors hunting these drug pushers down.

These particular drug pushers have devastated millions of families across the United States. Yet some of America’s most honorable institutions, outfits ranging from Yale University to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, have spent decades lauding their philanthropic generosity and benevolence.

We’re obviously not talking El Chapo or any of his drug-running buddies here. We’re talking about the mega-billionaire family behind one of America’s most profitable drug-industry empires, the privately held Purdue Pharma.

Last week, flacks at Purdue announced that the company will no longer be flooding doctors’ offices with sales representatives hawking OxyContin, the now-notorious opioid painkiller. This move may be the closest admission of guilt we will ever see from Purdue Pharma — or the patriarchs of the Sackler family that gave it birth.

The roots of Purdue’s criminal profiteering, as Patrick Radden Keefe has chillingly related in the New Yorker, stretch all the way back to three brothers in mid-20th century Brooklyn. All three — Arthur, Mortimer, and Raymond Sackler — became doctors. All three had an entrepreneurial bent. Arthur had entrepreneurial genius.

Arthur Sackler saw that the pharmaceutical industry of his day had no clue to the marketing magic — and magical profits — that modern Madison Avenue advertising approaches could fashion. He linked the two. His ad agency pioneered tactics that would revolutionize prescription drug marketing.

Pharmaceutical companies, under Arthur Sackler’s guidance, began hiring noted doctors to vouch for their products and subsidizing studies that showed how useful their products could be. Sackler’s campaigns deluged doctors’ offices with attractive promo brochures and filled medical journals with flashy ads.

The promotions sometimes played fast and loose. In 1959, one national magazine investigation found that doctors listed as endorsing a new Sackler-backed antibiotic didn’t exist.

The really big bucks from Sackler’s efforts started flowing in the 1960s. Sackler’s marketing miracles turned the tranquillizers Librium and Valium into everyday commodities. By 1973, millions of annual tranquillizer prescriptions had created what Senator Edward Kennedy bewailed as a “a nightmare of dependence and addiction.”

But Purdue Pharma, the drug company the Sacklers ran, had grander visions, and the company’s dreams revolved around exploiting the untapped potential of opioids, synthetic forms of opium that modern researchers had first started developing in the early 1900s. Doctors had always known that these opioids had a significant pain-killing capacity. Doctors also feared their addictive properties.

Purdue Pharma set out to overcome that fear, with a massive marketing campaign on behalf of OxyContin, the drug company’s new take on the opioid called oxycodone, a “chemical cousin of heroin” that can be “up to twice as powerful as morphine.” Purdue bankrolled widely circulated research that testified to OxyContin’s safety and urged physicians to prescribe the drug for all sorts of conditions.

A sales force that at one point boasted a thousand reps reinforced that message with countless in-person visits to medical offices. Purdue hired several thousand clinicians on top of that to sing OxyContin’s praises at medical conferences. The company even offered doctors “all-expenses-paid trips to pain-management seminars in places like Boca Raton.”

The campaign goal: nothing less than changing the prescription habits of America’s doctors.

The campaign succeeded. Purdue won FDA approval for OxyContin in 1995. Almost overnight the drug became a phenomenal medical marketplace success, eventually generating some $ 35 billion in revenue. The FDA examiner who ran the approval process would later come to work for Purdue.

But problems with OxyContin soon surfaced. People were becoming addicted, in part because Purdue made abusing OxyContin so easy. The drug was formulated to release slowly over 12 hours. But users could just crush the pills and get a quick high.

Purdue blamed the early reports of addictions on these abusers. But OxyContin had a much deeper problem. Purdue was marketing the drug’s long-lasting, 12-hour relief. In reality, the relief often lasted fewer hours, leaving conscientious users continually craving more of the drug and desperate to get it.

Purdue would systematically stonewall this reality year after year, lining up political heavy-hitters like former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani to run interference. Lawsuits against Purdue did start proliferating in the early 2000s. Purdue made them go away, by settling out of court before any incriminating documents revealed in the pretrial discovery process could ever see the light of day.

Meanwhile, the death toll mounted. In hard-hit Pike County, Kentucky, nearly 30 percent of local residents either had lost a family member to OxyContin addiction or knew someone outside their family who did.

The fortune of the various branches of the Sackler clan mounted as well. The combined Sackler clan has become, Forbes calculates, one of America’s richest families, with a current net worth at $ 13 billion. In 2015, the Sacklers pulled in an estimated $ 700 million in income from their Big Pharma interests.

Amid this enormous fortune, the heirs to the original three Brooklyn brothers have fallen out with each other. Some are even feeling remorse. But others are looking for greener pastures abroad. With the domestic market for opioids seemingly saturated, opioid makers like Purdue Pharma are invading foreign markets.

These same companies, led by Purdue Pharma, are continuing to subsidize nonprofit groups that promote opioid use. Earlier this week, a report from U.S. senator Claire McCaskill detailed how the nation’s five largest opioid makers handed over $ 10 million the last five years to 14 of these nonprofits and their affiliated doctors.

Revelations about the incredible extent of corporate opioid irresponsibility continue as well. A congressional committee has just found that “two of the nation’s biggest drug distributors shipped 12.3 million doses of powerful opioids to a single pharmacy in a tiny West Virginia town over an eight-year period.”

Behind every great fortune, the French novelist Honoré de Balzac once observed, lurks a crime.

Some crimes kill.

The post The Big Pharma Family that Brought Us the Opioid Crisis appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.


Taxing Wealth to Make Public College Free Again

The post Taxing Wealth to Make Public College Free Again appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.


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VIDEO: Trump’s Surprising Criticism of Israel Doesn’t Change Much

In an usual move, President Trump recently criticized Israel’s construction of illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian territory.

“The settlements are something that very much complicates and always have complicated making peace,” Trump said in an interview published by Israel Hayom. He even said he’s not “necessarily sure that Israel is looking to make peace” with the Palestinians.

Phyllis Bennis, a Middle East expert at the Institute for Policy Studies and author of Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict, discussed the surprising criticism on Al-Jazeera.

Criticizing settlements is not a novel idea, Bennis noted, but it is for Trump, who’s been strongly supportive of Israel’s right-wing government throughout his presidency.

Despite his light criticism, that support seems unlikely to change. Bennis cautions that the comments were made “in the context of an interview,” rather than a “scripted presentation,” so it’s “not at all clear this represents a serious shift in U.S. policy.”

Though President Trump’s words, tweets, and State Department are often conveying conflicting messages, Bennis suggested that this does not impact the U.S.’s ability to present itself as an “honest broker” in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Of course, this is because the “U.S. has not been an honest broker for many years,” said Bennis. Instead, “the U.S. positioned itself as being in charge of negotiations, in charge of diplomacy, but with no illusion that it stood equally for the rights of both sides.”

Bennis noted that U.S. negotiators of the past have referred to themselves openly as “Israel’s lawyers.”

Trump also said he would “feel much better” about the U.S.-Israeli relationship if “we can actually make a deal in terms of peace” between Israelis and Palestinians.

But a “deal,” Bennis said, is “very different from peace.” That’s because “peace requires a modicum of justice.” A “deal,” on the other hand, “implies ending resistance, essentially, to Israeli power.”

Bennis anticipates that Netanyahu will respond to President Trump’s comments, but doesn’t expect anything substantial. After all, President Trump has been one of Netanyahu’s loudest supporters.

“President Trump has made clear that he is more officially and formally pro-Israel than any other recent president, and [Netanyahu] is not about to put that at risk,” said Bennis.

See the original post here.

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Tipping Is a Legacy of Slavery That It’s Time to Outgrow

Why do Americans pay tips? And why do tipped workers get a much lower minimum wage than most non-tipped workers?

Michael Paarlberg, an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, and Teo Reyes, National Research Director at the Restaurant Opportunities Center United, recently appeared on WOLB’s Lunch with Labor podcast to answer those questions.

The tipped wage system “was something that Americans imported from the European aristocracy,” said Paarlberg, “not coincidentally, right after the civil war.” For white-owned businesses, adopting the tip system was a “way to avoid having to pay salaries to newly freed slaves.”

Paarlberg noted that the tip system not only harms employees, but patrons as well. Tipping “shifts the responsibility of paying employees from [owners] to customers,” he explained.

The national minimum wage for tipped workers is an abysmally low $ 2.13. Tips are supposed to help workers reach the still-low non-tipped minimum of $ 7.25 an hour, and employers are supposed to make up the difference when they don’t. Of course, “this doesn’t always happen,” Paarlberg noted, leaving millions of tipped employees working for sub-minimum wage.

Yet “instead of raising wages,” said Reyes, “the industry pushes for higher tips,” passing the cost entirely onto customers.

Reyes also mentioned another little known fact about the two-tier wage system: “If you make more than $ 30 per month in tipped wages, you can be classified as a ‘customarily tipped employee,’ and can [legally] be paid sub-minimum wage.”

Based on his and Paarlberg’s recent research, Reyes refuted the stereotypical response from restaurant owners — that as wages are raised for employees, business owners will have to shrink staff sizes, leading to higher unemployment and poverty. “Poverty rates are [actually] lower in states who adopted” higher minimum wage policies, said Reyes.

In their study, Paarlberg and Reyes compared counties in New York, which in 2015 raised its tipped minimum wage to $ 7.50 an hour, and similar communities across the border in Pennsylvania, where the tipped minimum wage is a much lower $ 2.83. In New York, counties actually increased by an average of $ 1,600 per year, and the restaurant industry hired more employees than it let go. “And, on the Pennsylvania side, just across the border, wages also went up, but much less,” he said.

For more information on the fight to end the two-tiered wage system, visit

Listen to the full interview on WOLB’s Lunch with Labor.

The post Tipping Is a Legacy of Slavery That It’s Time to Outgrow appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.


Trump’s Infrastructure Plan Is a Scam


Marco Nurnberger / Flickr

President Donald Trump claims that a $ 200 billion investment by the federal government will lead to nearly $ 1.5 trillion in new infrastructure spending—when it’s leveraged in the private sector over 10 years. That’s the gist of the long-promised “plan” he released on Feb. 12.

But as we’ve seen before, when the president makes big plans and claims that someone else will pay, he’s scamming us.

Trump’s infrastructure plan hinges on a $ 100 billion matching grant program for states and cities to launch their own projects, with additional funds coming from a $ 50 billion rural investment program, along with a few other line items. That’s supposed to entice private companies to come out of the woodwork and rebuild America to the tune of $ 1.5 trillion.

Just like Mexico won’t pay for a border wall, private investors won’t pay for roads, bridges, and energy infrastructure just because the president says they will. Kicking federal obligations to private companies doesn’t work that way.

Read the full article at

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Emmanuel Macron Was Supposed to Be the Anti-Trump. He’s Not.


Photo: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff / Source: Flickr

Coming just months after the election of Donald Trump in the United States, and as illiberal authoritarianism seemed to be creeping all over Europe, the election of French president Emmanuel Macron brought a sigh of relief to many across Western democracies.

It was May 2017 when Macron, a pro-European centrist, decisively defeated the far-right, Euroskeptic Marine le Pen. Enthusiastic and patriotic messages such as “Vive la France” or “Vive l’Europe” poured in on Twitter from both sides of the Atlantic.

Some Americans weren’t shy about describing Macron’s victory as a defeat for both Trump and right-wing nationalism around the world. “Macron’s win is a blow to far-right nationalism,” former Obama adviser Ben Rhodes tweeted, and “and a sign that the Brexit-Trump wave has broken in West.” Trump’s defeated rival Hillary Clinton hailed the French vote as a “victory for Macron, for France, the EU, and the world.”

Immediately after Macron took office, the young president postured to show the world he was no pushover. At his first official meeting with Trump ahead of the NATO summit that May, Macron engaged Trump in a bone crushing, never-ending, awkward handshake that played out like a standoff between the two men’s divergent politics.

Videos and second by second analysis flooded the news cycle. “That’s how you ensure you are respected,” Macron gloated to the Journal du Dimanche newspaper afterward. “You have to show you won’t make small concessions — not even symbolic ones.”

Riding on this confident wave, Macron went on to troll Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement by inviting U.S scientists and engineers to come work in France — and then launching a campaign called “Make the planet great again.”

But what some thought was the beginning of a boxing match between Macron and Trump ended up being a highly orchestrated WWE. The rivalry didn’t last long. Indeed, just two months after the handshake, Macron feted Trump at a Bastille Day military parade in Paris. Trump was so impressed that he recently ordered his own military parade in the United States.

The policy convergence between the two rivals, however, goes far beyond a shared fondness for military pomp.

“President of the Rich”

Similarly to Trump, Macron promised a renewal of politics that would transcend the traditional left-right split. He crafted an image of himself as a highly ambitious leader who was unafraid of carrying out bold reforms and challenging the status quo in a Napoleonic — or Trumpian — kind of way.

More than eight months after he took office, it’s now clear that Macron is no meek centrist — and definitely not a progressive. He’s more like a right-leaning, pro-market, elitist monarch, who shares more in common with Trump than his admirers imagined.

The former investment banker didn’t wait long to start shaking the foundation of the French labor market. A few months after being elected, ignoring mass protests and concerns from unions, he enacted deeply controversial labor reforms with a series of executive orders.

Macron’s “reforms” entirely reorganized the French labor market to give unprecedented power to employers and corporations. They play on the false and dangerous promise that deregulating labor markets will result in reduced unemployment and economic growth. While the French labor market remains more protective of workers than say, the U.S. model, this reform brings France much closer to the American model.

A few months later, Macron’s bloc in the French parliament voted on a new budget that Trump would’ve happily signed. It slashed the corporate tax rate down to 25 percent (from 33 percent), scrapped a longstanding “solidarity tax on wealth” (France was the last EU country to have a wealth tax), cut 1.7 billion euros in housing aid, and eliminated 120,000 public contract jobs.

This led the well-respected French economist Thomas Piketty to compare Macron to Trump, who just passed a $ 1.5 trillion tax giveaway to the rich and corporations in the United States.

Both men, Piketty argues, share the same flawed economic vision — a variant of the trickle-down theory that Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher swore by. And both falsely claim that cutting taxes on the wealthiest benefits ordinary people and stimulates the economy by giving the rich incentives to invest in their country.

This theory was, of course, never proven scientifically — and au contraire, reports have shown that these policies contribute to the rise of deep inequality. According to the Observatoire Français des Conjonctures Economiques (OFCE), an independent economic research center, 42 percent of the French tax reduction will in fact only benefit the wealthiest 2 percent. The numbers are comparably skewed in the United States.

Trump and Macron “refuse to take into account facts which are now well established, namely that the groups to which they give preference are those who have already acquired a disproportionate share of the growth in recent decades,” Piketty concludes. Yet both presidents want the masses to cherish the wealthy, whom Trump hails as “job creators” and Macron calls “lead climbers.”

No wonder opposition parties in France are calling Macron the “president of the rich.”

Inhumanity to Immigrants

More surprisingly, given Macron’s image as a redoubt against France’s resurgent far right, the French president has tacked a decidedly Trumpian line on immigration. The man who once congratulated German Prime Minister Angela Merkel for responding “humanly” to the refugee crisis by opening Germany’s doors now supports a crackdown on undocumented migrants.

This month, the administration is expected to unveil a new migration and asylum bill that will toughen immigration laws in an unprecedented way. NGOs, charities, and non-profit organizations describe the bill as inhumane and warn of potential human rights violations. “No government since the end of World War Two has dared” to go as far as Macron in tightening migration, French immigration Patrick Weil told Europe 1. Even members of Macron’s own party are expressing serious concerns.

The bill reduces the time for migrants to apply for asylum from 120 days to 90 days, and to two weeks to appeal a decision instead of a month. On the other hand, it would increase the maximum time migrants spend in detention centers from 45 days to 90 days, and from 16 hours to 24 hours in case of administrative detention.

These measures give authorities more time and power to increase and accelerate deportations for those who are deemed unqualified for asylum. It’s a tidy parallel to the massive deportation apparatus the Trump is building in the United States, while drastically cutting back the number of refugees the country accepts.

Meanwhile, humanitarian groups such as Human Rights Watch and Doctors Without Borders have been condemning French authorities for turning a blind eye to widespread reports of police violence against migrants, such as confiscating their sleeping bags and blankets in freezing temperatures, barring aid groups from distributing basic supplies, and indiscriminately attacking people with pepper spray.

And late last year, Macron’s interior minister, Gerard Collomb, ordered regional authorities to conduct ID checks in emergency shelters. This would turn away undocumented migrants from seeking refuge and help in times of emergency.

Sure, the French president is highly educated, able to hold philosophical discussions, and does not bully his opponents on Twitter like his American counterpart, who’s often described as unstable, provocative, and vulgar. However, they both have authoritarian tendencies and hold great disdain for the poor.

If there’s a humane alternative to the plutocratic and xenophobic politics of the far right on both sides of the Atlantic, it won’t be found in Macron’s deceptively right-wing centrism.

The post Emmanuel Macron Was Supposed to Be the Anti-Trump. He’s Not. appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.