"My goal is to make the name Richard Sackler synonymous with mass death,” says Canadian musician Tom Barlow, who wrote The Wizard, with Tom Lewis, using the words of the former head of Purdue Pharma, maker of OxyContin, owned by the billionaire Sackler family.
The Juno-nominated pop singer-songwriter, who releases music under Barlow, had read the news reports citing lawsuit documents containing damning messages and memos by Sackler that prove he was aware of the addictive nature of the drug launched in the U.S. in 1996.
In one example, research and development VP Robert Kaiko wrote to Sackler, saying that “[O]xycodone containing products are still among the most abused opioids in the US. If OxyContin is uncontrolled... it is highly likely that it will eventually be abused.” Sackler responded, “How substantially would it improve your sales?”
In 2007, Purdue pled guilty to misleading doctors about the risks of OxyContin and was ordered to pay out $600 million U.S. in fines, a drop in the bucket for the billionaire family, which continued to pursue sales over the next decade aggressively.
While 8,048 people died in 1999 from any opioids and continued to rise to 47,600 in 2017, according to figures from the Drug Institute on Drug Abuse, the Sackler family’s wealth continued from Purdue and other holdings. In 2016, Forbes estimated their net worth at least $14 billion.
In March of this year, the company agreed to pay $270 million U.S. to settle one of many lawsuits, and last month announced it would use its bankruptcy settlement “to provide more than $10 billion of value to address the opioid crisis."
While most are simply sick to our stomach over their greed and callousness, Barlow created a song about it, produced and mixed by Bill Bell (Tom Cochrane, Jason Mraz), and directed a music video using clips from TV host John Oliver’s segment, employing actors Michael Keaton and Bryan Cranston.
Samaritanmag talked to Barlow about what moved him to create the song and what he hopes to achieve. — Link here to read Karen Bliss's interview with Tom Barlow in full.