Opioid epidemic: 5 things to know about why it exploded in Palm Beach County (2024)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday, June 26, rejected a bankruptcy settlement for the Sackler family that would have brought money to victims in the opioid crisis that the family are accused of starting but would have shielded them from liability in lawsuits.

Three brothers, all medical doctors — Arthur, Raymond and Mortimer — are blamed for kicking off the opioid crisis with their company's wildly popular product, OxyContin.

Purdue promoted the pill to doctors in the late 1990s and early 2000s with claims that only 1 percent of patients would become addicted. Those were based on a letter to the editor in the New England Journal of Medicine, not a peer-reviewed scientific study.

Doctors were told by Purdue sales reps that they were not aggressive enough in treating their patients' pain. One way they could assess, sales reps said, was to assess their pain on a scale of 1-to-10, creating the pain rating.

Sales exploded with 6 million pills prescribed and $1 billion in profit five years after OxyContin was introducted in 1996.

Palm Beach Post investigation: How Florida ignited the heroin crisis

Authur Sackler had created the first-ever marketing campaign for a prescription drug — Valium. Raymond and Mortimer used that wildly successful template to market OxyContin, which hit the market in 1996. The same approach was used by Purdue's sales reps to encourage doctors to prescribe OxyContin.

Here are five things to know about the family's part in the crisis and their ties to Palm Beach County:

What happened to the Sackler family? Some live in Palm Beach County

Escaping New York society which reportedly had shunned them, Raymond's grandson and his wife bought a sprawling $7.4 million mansion near Boca Raton in 2019, not long after the family bought aWest Palm Beach office building.

The purchase of the Glidden Spina + Partners building in West Palm Beach for a Sackler family office took place less than two months before Purdue Pharma filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

David Sackler formerlyserved as a Purdue Pharmaboard member. He and his wife, Joss, live in the Boca Raton-area home. Joss is a fashion designer, rock climber and linguist. Forty years after the Valium campaign, David's father Richard ran Purdue Pharma, which would generate $35 billion in revenue. The crisis led to hundreds of thousands of deaths.

EXCLUSIVE: Purdue Pharma’s Sackler family buys West Palm Beach building for $6.8M

Wellington twins run largest 'pill mill' operation in the country

Opioid epidemic: 5 things to know about why it exploded in Palm Beach County (1)

As sales of OxyContin rose, the "pill mills" in Palm Beach and Broward counties spread opioid addiction across Florida and to states east of the Mississippi River.

The largest pill mill network in the country was based in Palm Beach County and run by Wellington twins Chris and Jeff George.

Law enforcement authorities estimated five of the George brother's pill mills pumped out 20 million doses of oxycodone nationwide during the height of their operation from 2008 to 2010, generating more than $40 million in profit and contributing to at least 50 overdose deaths.

Jeff, Chris, their mother and Chris' wife were all sentenced to prison.

'American Pain': Former Wellington pill mill kingpins Chris, Jeff George subjects of CNN documentary

Palm Beach County, cities such as Delray Beach, sue Purdue Pharma

Palm Beach County, cities such as Delray Beachand the state ofFloridawere among numerous states and municipalities nationwide that sued the family's Connecticut-based Purdue Pharma for its role in the crisis, which has resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths and torment for families across the country.

Three Palm Beach hospitals, Good Samaritan Medical Center, Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center and St. Mary’s Medical Center, later joined the statewide lawsuit. They were among the 27 hospitalssuing manufacturers, distributors and retailers of opioid-based drugs.

Palm Beach County's slice of the settlement was the third largest in the state's $1.6 billion total possible allocation.

More: Palm Beach County recovery advocates to Sackler family: You belong in jail

Palm Beach County also ground zero for corrupt addiction treatment

As a result of the pill, heroin then fentanyl crisis, corrupt operators of addiction treatment facilities and sober homes flocked to the Sunshine State and chiefly Palm Beach County to make millions off vulnerable patients trying to get a handle on their addictions.

They exploited people battling addictions. The operators made millions off their urine, submitting it to labs that administered tests far more complex than what would show whether the patients were using drugs. Insurance companies paid millions.

In the meantime, drug treatment operators such as Kenny Chatman forced women seeking sobriety to work as prostitutes and to have sex with him. He allowed men to pay to rape residents, some who were just teens.Grieving family members blamed him for their loved ones' overdose deaths.

"This man ran an addiction brothel," the father of one of Chatman's clients said. "He's worse than a pedophile."

Chatman was sentenced to 27 years in federal prison.

Florida Shuffle: State's failure to oversee addiction treatment leaves patients in deadly danger

Palm Beach County is the epicenter of fixing addiction treatment, stopping corrupt operators

As people battling addiction were dying by the hundreds, Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg in 2016 created the Sober Home Task Force, now known as the Addiction Recovery Task Force, to go after rogue sober home operators. To date, the task force's law enforcment arm has more than 100 arrests, most ending in convictions.

Gov. Ron DeSantis is spreading the model of an addiction recovery emergency room pioneered in Palm Beach County to the rest of the state.

The special ER hooked up patients with services such as housing and treatment such as Suboxone right in the hospital.

Holly Baltz is the investigations editor at The Palm Beach Post. You can reach her at hbaltz@pbpost.com.

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: OxyContin, Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family: 5 things to know

Opioid epidemic: 5 things to know about why it exploded in Palm Beach County (2024)
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