“Be Like A Skunk At A Garden Party”: Author Patrick Radden Keefe On Investigating Pharma

“Be Like A Skunk At A Garden Party”: Author Patrick Radden Keefe On Investigating Pharma

Patrick Radden Keefe (pictured), author of global bestseller, Empire of Pain, talked to B&T‘s Nancy Hromin at the Samsung Jaipur Literary Festival about reputation laundering, aggressive marketing strategies and the privilege of still being able to practice pure journalism and be paid for it.

Keefe’s in-depth reporting in publications such as The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine brought national attention to Purdue’s deceptive practices, prompting public outrage and demands for accountability. This work resulted in his book Empire of Pain and several streaming series about this extraordinary story of marketing deception.

Keefe reflected back on how often and fortunate he was to be the skunk, the one that asks and digs where it is unpleasant to do so and to have a paid job on the New Yorker. This is enabled him to investigate while remaining independent, a luxury he recognises is becoming all the rarer.

He tells us in his gripping dialogue, like only a journalist of his calibre can, how Purdue Pharma, embarked on an aggressive marketing campaign that ultimately contributed to the devastating opioid crisis that has affected over one million people and many more families in the United States today.

“They use a multifaceted approach and flooded medical conferences, physician offices and patient waiting rooms with promotional materials about the drug’s efficacy in treating chronic pain,” he said

By targeting doctors with incentives and misleading information about the drug’s addictive potential, Purdue effectively positioned OxyContin as a miracle solution for patients suffering from pain. The quote that became the Purdue Sales representative’s mantra “Start with Oxy, stay with Oxy” and the lucrative commissions they awarded their sales staff, drove this marketing blitz into overdrive for years.

Keefe played a pivotal role in surfacing Purdue Pharmaceutical’s marketing strategies and painstakingly researched the Sackler family and the company they own. Through his research, he unearthed an intricate web of deceit Purdue executives used to promote and profit from the widespread prescription of OxyContin.

The Sacklers then utilised their wealth and power to launder their reputation, donating millions to various museums, galleries and foundations. It was the work of high-profile photographer, artist and activist Nan Goldin, who after struggling for years with addiction, including oxycontin, that bought global attention to how the Sackler family kept their grip on power with the elite.

She wrote in a 2018 issue of Artforum, “They have washed their blood money through the halls of museums and universities around the world.”

Keefe returned to the premise of the importance of independent journalism as the foundation for democracy, holding those in power to account, and shining a light on corruption. We all have a role to play to support independent journalism and he grinned when I told him I pay for my subscription to the New Yorker.

“Im glad to hear it” he said.

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Jaipur Literary Festival

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