Friday, March 15, 2019

My Link to Purdue Pharma, Maker of OxyContin

News Bulletin: With Lawsuits Looming, OxyContin Maker Considers Bankruptcy (

Reporters make choices every day. Which stories to write. How much play should they get. Which sources to use. Which to name. (One thing reporters don’t get to decide is the headline for their stories so don’t blame them for misleading, suggestive or provocative headlines. Of course, for my blog I write the headlines as well.)

Like most people reporters have innate biases. They try their best to be objective. They have sources who are favorites. By that I don’t mean they are friendly drinking buddies, though many an article may see the light of day after the bottom of a shot glass or beer mug has been drained. What I mean is that reporters may overlook the misdeeds of a politician or policeman if that favored source can provide dirt on another pol or cop, usually someone with a higher rank or a juicier violation. 

In the annals of reporting, Drew Pearson and his protege Jack Anderson are famous, some would say infamous, especially as it relates to Pearson. They were muckrakers. They exposed shady dealings and behaviors among Washington elites. 

I started reading Pearson’s and then Anderson’s syndicated “Washington Merry Go Round” column in the 1960s. It appeared most days in The New York Post, back then a liberal tabloid. Pearson, or maybe it was Anderson, justified the use of unnamed, dirt-spilling sources by asserting it was okay to ignore a source’s indiscretions if he or she disclosed damaging information on a more powerful sinner. 

like the adage “one wouldn’t eat sausage if one could see how it is made,” investigative journalism is not always clean and pretty. Tradeoffs are common. 

Which brings me to a story from my business writing career. Half a century ago a regional variety and discount store chain called Rose’s was headquartered in Henderson, NC.

Rose’s. It was not a huge success, which prompted the president of our company to ask a predecessor editor of Chain Store Age why he did not write any tough articles about Rose’s. Because, the editor replied, he liked the Rose’s executives and didn’t want to embarrass them. 

Fair enough. Which brings me to the real reason I’m writing this post. Having written that many of my blogs are prompted by my past association with current events or people in the news I must confess that almost daily I am confronted with a moral dilemma. 

There in print in The New York Times on several recent occasions was the name of a casual friend from my teenage years. It wasn’t the first time he was identified. He was, after all, the president and chief executive officer of Purdue Pharma, maker of OxyContin. The drumbeat of news surrounding his involvement in one of the nation’s most pressing crises kept gnawing at me. 

I knew his family. We prayed in the same synagogue on Ocean Avenue in Brooklyn. His father was our kosher butcher. His parents’ marriage in a displaced person camp after World War II is a beautiful story of triumph. His mother’s wedding gown was crafted from white parachute silk. The gown has been handed down to many brides and last I recall is displayed in a museum. My parents socialized with his parents. One summer we were counselors in camp. I knew his sister and brother. 

Shortly after Gilda retired earlier this year from her position as a nurse practitioner for spine surgeons two of our friends had spine surgery with one of the doctors she assisted. During their recuperatory period they took OxyContin. Used properly it is an exemplary pain killer with minimal chance of addiction. OxyContin provided the intended relief. Our friends are recovering nicely. 

For his involvement in the opioid tragedy unfolding in our country my adolescent acquaintance was fined $19 million and barred for 12 years from involvement in any government-financed health care program. 

There. I’ve said it. Or at least as much as I care to. I made my choice. You’re free to uncover more particulars. I will continue to wonder how my acquaintance sleeps each night knowing there are thousands, tens of thousands, whose lives have been forever damaged by the misleading and deadly aggressive marketing of OxyContin.