Corporate and personal ethics in business

Everyone in the pharmaceutical industry (and regulators) should read Empire of Pain – The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty, written by Patrick Radden Keefe.

It’s a devastating account of how the Sackler family’s Purdue Pharma exploited OxyContin – selling billions of dollars worth a year – and fuelled the opioid crisis.

The story of greedy, arrogant and ruthless pursuit of profits at any price, it is probably the worst case of corporate corruption ever and provides a pretty definitive list of how not to run a pharmaceutical company if you have any moral integrity whatsoever.

Was it really so clever to:

  • manipulate the Food and Drug Administration;
  • develop an over-voracious sales force;
  • finesse research data;
  • play down known risks;
  • motivate medical professionals unethically
  • use excessive legal muscle to see off court cases; and
  • make over-generous charitable donations;

all whilst channelling billions of dollars into obscure offshore trusts?

One reviewer (in The Times) saw the Sackler template as ‘cultivating officialdom and politicians, buying up experts on big salaries and ruthlessly targeting sales, no matter the consequences. The fortune made from Valium established the approach and OxyContin, thirty years later, ‘hit similar paydirt’. ‘Naked cynicism’ allowed the company ‘to describe addiction as a psychological malady’. The Sacklers ‘created the world in which OxyContin could succeed, by pioneering medical advertising and marketing, co-opting the FDA, mingling medicine and commerce, and the total denial of any family moral responsibility.’

I would like to think that no one should go into any kind of business – but most especially pharma, – without having a working moral compass and a keen sense of always wanting to do the right thing.

Who would think a pharma company of all things would pursue profits at any price, trading on people’s health fears to ruin and end lives and make billions into the bargain?

Success in running a company is not measured by how much money you can stash in a tax haven. For me, The Only Way is Ethics!

Published on May 24, 2021 by Neil Thomas