"Tucker Carlson Tonight" explores how the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute (AEI) was paid to publish pro-oxycontin stories for Purdue Pharmaceuticals, leading in part to the massive public health crisis regarding opioids.
TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS: The opioid epidemic has killed hundreds of thousands of Americans. Prescription painkillers were critical in starting that epidemic and they keep it going to this day. This is not news, we've known this for some time now. And yet, somehow the epidemic kept getting worse and worse as lawmakers and regulators did almost nothing to stop it. Why was that?
One reason is because Oxycontin inventor, Purdue Pharma, showered money on a lot of people in Washington, including one of America's top conservative think tanks. You've already guessed, they're not that conservative. We profiled that relationship in detail on this program this year. It is a shocking story you should know.
Close to 50,000 Americans died from opiods last year -- that is about one death every ten minutes. You almost never hear anyone in power talk about this, but it's changing this country forever.
Communities are collapsing. entire ZIP codes are being depopulated. Opioids have fueled the single biggest health crisis in our lifetimes by far. How did this start? Men in labcoats at Purdue Pharma. The maker of Oxycontin.
When Oxycontin was introduced, Purdue claimed without any evidence at all that the users of it were unlikely to become addicted to the product. That was a lie. A lie that caused epidemic. Oxycontin and other painkillers turned out to be terrifyingly addictive. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have entered into a death spiral of addiction after being prescribed these drugs by doctors. The disaster began more than 20 years ago and yet only now is Purdue Pharma collapsing under the weight of lawsuits. So how did the company get away with this for so long?
The answer tells you so much about how the propaganda machine works in modern America. Having made billions destroying an entire generation, Purdue Pharma used some of that profits and paid for their publicity. And oh boy, did they get it. Some of the P.R. budgets went to nonprofits in Washington.
According to reporting from ProPublica, from 2003 until very recently, Purdue Pharma gave $50,000 a year to the American Enterprise Institute. AEI is a conservative think tank in Washington, one of the richest. The money turned out to be well spent. For the about price of a car, Purdue pharma bought years of positive coverage that helps the company escape scrutiny for the many deaths it was causing at the same time.
In 2004, an AEI scholar published a piece of "The New York Times" lamenting the plight of doctors who risk jail time for overprescribing painkillers. The article cited a study showing that Oxycontin abuse was nonexistent among those who had been prescribed the drug. As it turns out, the study was conducted and paid for by Purdue Pharma researchers, but the article didn't mention that key fact. It also didn't mention the fact that the piece had been coordinated directly with the drug company. Emails show that AEI's scholar, the one who wrote the piece, sent a draft to Purdue Pharma's chief lobbyist a month before the article came out seeking his approval of the text and making certain didn't seem to blatantly pro-Purdue. Pretty stealthy.
In 2007 that same AEI scholar wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal entitled, "Oxymoron." It briefly chastised Purdue for over-promoting its drugs, but then -- and this was the real point of it-- it described oxycontin as a godsend. It worried doctors might not prescribe the drug in sufficient qualities. The problem with Oxycontin, in other words, is that America does not have enough of it.
As for the people who were starting to drop dead from Oxycontin, the article dismissed them as "committed substance abusers." The year that article appeared, 18,000 people died of opioid overdoses. More than double the number from just a few years before. The epidemic was starting to rage out of control. According to AEI's expert scholar: "The real public health damage here comes from the pitched campaign conducted by zealous prosecutors and piublic interest advocates to demonize the drug itself."
According to AEI, the real crisis was the fact that not enough Americans were taking Oxycontin, this was in effect ad copy. No different than a glossy insert touting the life-enhancing benefits of some consumer product. In one way, one key way it was different. Readers had no idea it was an ad for Oxycontin.
They assumed it was what he claimed to be: Scientific research by a well-respected free-market think tank, AEI. There was no mention of funding from Purdue Pharma. AEI kept that to itself. Meanwhile, thousands kept dying. Many, ironically, in this country's red estate. A conservative think tank ran interference for a company whose products were disproportionate killing conservatives. Just another day in Washington. If you're starting to suspect the establishment doesn't represent your interests, there is a reason for that. There are every bit as corrupt as you think they are.
Donations to corrupt Washington think tanks like AEI kept Purdue pharma safe for a long while but the Sacklers couldn't run forever. Now the company is collapsing under a wave of lawsuits. The Sackler family is offered to settle lawsuits against them. Sadly, if that offer holds up it means the family will never receive the justice it deserves. We profiled the settlement recently.
When the company released that drug they claimed it would be less addictive than other opioid medications. That was a lie. At some point, Purdue pharma knew it was a lie, but they kept telling it. And multitudes died as a result. Oxycontin turns out to be terrifyingly addictive. It has help drive a drug epidemic in this country that has killed more Americans than any conflict since the Second World War. We now know that Purdue Pharma understood exactly what they were doing. Recent legal filings have exposed internal communications within the company showing that the company's sales staff were pressured to sell as many pills as they could without regard to the risk.
Physicians were urged to prescribe the highest possible dosage of the drug in order to maximize profits. When evidence emerged people were becoming junkies as a result, Purdue pharma responded by shaming the patients they had hooked on their drug. They called them degenerate criminals. Refusing to take any responsibility for the human carnage they caused. It's hard to imagine an uglier story. Throughout all of it we should note, Purdue pharma's owners, the Sackler family grew rich. Impossibly rich. Earlier this year they were estimated to have more than $12 billion in the bank. Thanks to the opioid epidemic, the Sackler family is now one of the 20 richest families in the country.
In the last few years, Purdue Pharma has faced a wave of lawsuits from the people and places devastated by its pills. Apparently the company has made a settlement offer. To resolve all of these lawsuits Purdue pharma will pay $12 billion. $3 billion of them would come from the Sackler family, which would then give up control of Purdue pharma. It sounds like a lot of money, but let's put it into some perspective. The massive tobacco settlement of 1998 totaled about $206 billion. No one would defend cigarette smoking, over time it will kill you. Smoking cigarettes doesn't cut out young people in their prime. Smoking doesn't turn teenagers into zombies. It hasn't destroyed entire towns in the Midwest and New England. So the Sackler family is hoping to get off with just 6% of what the tobacco companies paid more than 20 years ago. That feels wrong.
It's easy to see why the Sacklers are for it. According to Bloomberg, the Sacklers would retain at least $1.5 billion dollars after the settlement. Is that justice? No, it's not. But unfortunately, it is now a familiar pattern in American life. A ruling class gets incredibly rich by wrecking our country, in this case by killing many thousands of young people. They get caught doing it, details emerge, everyone in D.C., N.Y., and L.A. spends a week pretending to be horrified and concerned by it. And then nothing happens. Not a single one of the perpetrators ever goes to jail. No one is ever really punished. We've seen it again and again, including in the Financial Crisis of 2008.
In the end, in this case, they take their blood money and they head to St. Barts for Thanksgiving, and they laugh. They get away with it every time. For once, it would be nice if people like the Sackelrs got what they deserved. It might make the rest of us less cynical.