Meet the Sacklers, one of the richest families in America, who built their $14 billion fortune off of controversial prescription drug OxyContin


The Sacklers are one of the wealthiest families in the US, but you’ve likely never heard of them.

They might not have the name recognition of some of America’s wealthiest families, such as the Waltons or the Rockefellers, but those who haven’t heard the Sackler name have almost certainly heard of the source of their wealth: OxyContin, the controversial prescription painkiller.

The Sackler family founded Purdue Pharma, which launched the drug in 1996. The original founding brothers, Raymond Sackler and Mortimer Sackler, died in 2010 and 2017 respectively. Their family still completely owns the company and shares an estimated $US14 billion fortune, according to Forbes. But as The New York Times noted, the exact number is not known, as Purdue Pharma is a private company.

The Sacklers are not a tight-knit family. The Guardian described them in 2018 as “a sprawling and now feuding transatlantic dynasty.” While some Sacklers serve as board members of Purdue Pharma, others, notably those descended from eldest brother Arthur M. Sackler, who died before OxyContin was invented, have distanced themselves from the company and condemned the OxyContin-based wealth, according to The Guardian.

But a 2018 investigation by The Atlantic found a court document that showed a nearly $US20 million payment to Arthur M. Sackler’s estate in 1997 from the Purdue family of companies, suggesting his descendants did benefit in some way from OxyContin.

In an email to Business Insider, Janet Wootten, a spokesperson for Jillian Sackler, widow of the late Arthur M. Sackler, denied that Jillian, Arthur, or their heirs have financially profited from the sale of OxyContin.

In a 2017 New Yorker article about the Sacklers titled “The Family That Built an Empire of Pain,” Patrick Radden Keefe noted the Sacklers are actually more well-known for their philanthropy.

At Yale University, there’s a Raymond and Beverly Sackler Institute for Biological, Physical and Engineering Sciences and a Richard Sackler and Jonathan Sackler Professorship of Internal Medicine. A $US3.5 million endowment to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City earned them the Sackler Wing. There’s a Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC.

Here’s a look at the secretive and controversial family.


The Sackler family is one of the richest families in the US. In 2016, Forbes estimated their net worth at a “conservative” $US14 billion, beating out famously wealthy families such as the Mellons and the Rockefellers. They own Purdue Pharma, a pharmaceutical company based in Connecticut.

Source: Forbes


The vast majority of the Sackler fortune comes from a well-known prescription painkiller that Purdue Pharma launched in 1996: OxyContin. By 2001, sales of the drug made up approximately 80% of Purdue Pharma’s revenue.

Source: The New York Times


OxyContin is seen as partly to blame for the opioid crisis sweeping the US. More than 130 people in the US die each day after overdosing on opioids, including prescription pain relievers, heroin, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.

Source: The Guardian, National Institute of Drug Abuse


Purdue Pharma, which generates $US3 billion in annual sales, has spent hundreds of millions of dollars settling various lawsuits over misleading drug regulators, doctors, and patients about the risks of addiction when taking OxyContin. The Sackler family still completely owns the company, and the multibillion-dollar fortune is shared among around 20 family members.

Source: Business Insider


“The Sacklers have hidden their connection to their product,” Keith Humphreys, a psychiatry professor at Stanford University who has written extensively about the opioid crisis, told Esquire. “They don’t call it ‘Sackler Pharma.’ They don’t call their pills ‘Sackler pills.’ And when they’re questioned, they say, ‘Well, it’s a privately held firm, we’re a family, we like to keep our privacy, you understand.'” But the family is well-known for their philanthropic endeavours, with their names visibly emblazoned on hospital wings and museum galleries.

Getty Images

Source: Esquire


The pharmaceutical empire began when brothers Mortimer and Raymond Sackler took over a small pharmaceutical company in New York City’s Greenwich Village called Purdue Frederick as co-chairmen. It later became Purdue Pharma.

Source: The New Yorker


The oldest Sackler brother, Arthur, worked in pharmaceutical marketing and became one of the world’s leading collectors of Asian art. He died in 1987 at age 73, before OxyContin was invented. His descendants split off from the rest of the family years ago and are “mere multimillionaires,” according to Esquire.

Getty ImagesThe entrance of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, DC.

Source: The Guardian, Politico, Esquire


His four children, Elizabeth Sackler, Carol Master, Arthur Felix Sackler, and Denise Marica, have said they have not made any money from OxyContin. Elizabeth, a board member of the Brooklyn Museum, where she endowed the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, has called the OxyContin-based wealth of her family members “morally abhorrent.”

Getty ImagesElizabeth Sackler.

Source: The Guardian, The New Yorker


The middle son and one of Purdue Pharma’s chief executives, Mortimer Sackler, who died in 2010 at age 93, left behind his third wife, Theresa Sackler, who is heavily involved in philanthropic work. Of Mortimer’s seven children, three are board members of Purdue Pharma.

Philip Toscano/PA Images via Getty ImagesPurdue Pharma co-founder Mortimer Sackler’s third wife, Theresa Sackler.

Source: The Guardian


One of those board members is his son, also named Mortimer. The other two are daughters Kathe Sackler, who is also the founder and president of the Acorn Foundation for the Arts & Sciences, and Ilene Sackler Lefcourt, director of the Sackler Lefcourt Center for Child Development.

Getty ImagesMortimer Sackler., Jr. and his wife, Jacqueline Sackler.

Source: The Guardian


Mortimer Sr.’s other four children are apparently not involved in the company. Marissa Sackler, who considers herself a “social entrepreneur,” is the founder of Beespace, a non-profit that supports organisations such as the Malala Fund.

Getty ImagesMarissa Sackler in New York City in 2011.

Source: The New Yorker,The Guardian


Purdue Pharma’s other former chief executive, Raymond Sackler, died in 2017 at age 97. He had two children: Jonathan and Richard. Both are board members at Purdue Pharma. Richard’s son and Raymond’s grandson, David, is also a board member.

Source: The Guardian


Raymond’s granddaughter, Madeleine Sackler, is an award-winning filmmaker. In response to criticism related to her family background, she said she had “never worked at the company or had any influence in it.”

Monica Schipper/Getty ImagesMadeleine Sackler.

Source: The Guardian


The Sacklers’ philanthropic endeavours have involved an assortment of well-known global institutions, many related to art. The Sacklers reportedly donated $US3.5 million to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City in 1974 to create the Sackler Wing, where the Egyptian “Temple of Dendur” sits.

Shutterstock/Alexander Prokopenko

Source: Esquire


There’s a Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.

Source: Esquire


In London, there’s the Serpentine Sackler Gallery.

Getty ImagesA general view at the Kaspersky Lab Christmas Dinner at The Serpentine Gallery on November 29, 2018 in London, England. On this annual celebration, Kaspersky Lab hosted a private visit to the Serpentine Sackler Gallery and exhibit. Following the art tour a dinner was hosted at the Zaha Hadid-designed The Magazine Restaurant.

Source: Esquire


There is a Sackler Center at the Guggenheim in New York City …

Billy Farrell/Patrick McMullan via Getty ImagesJacqueline Sackler and Mortimer Sackler at The 3rd Annual Guggenheim Artist Ball at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 2005.

… as well as a Sackler Educational Lab at the American Museum of Natural History. The list goes on.

Getty ImagesThe entrance hall of American Museum of Natural History in NYC.

There’s even a type of rose named after a Sackler. Some have suggested the Sacklers should instead put their money toward helping those affected by opioid addiction, The New Yorker’s Patrick Radden Keefe reported.

Getty Images

Source: The New Yorker

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.