Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe audiobook review – inside America’s opioid crisis

With a calmly astonished tone, the author narrates the shocking story of how the Sackler family made its money out of the lethal painkiller OxyContin

A remarkable piece of narrative reporting and a sweeping family saga, New Yorker writer Patrick Radden Keefe’s award-winning book about the Sackler family and its role in America’s opioid crisis begins with the seemingly heart-warming tale of three Brooklyn brothers realising the dreams of their immigrant parents by becoming doctors. The Sacklers ­went on to become one of the richest families in the US – they have an estimated fortune of $14bn – known for their philanthropy and feted for their donations to art galleries, universities and medical institutes.

Drawing on newly available court documents and more than 200 interviews, Empire of Pain reveals how the family made its money from the suffering of Americans through the aggressive sales techniques of Purdue, the Connecticut-based pharmaceutical company that became the biggest producer of OxyContin. The slow-release painkiller is twice as powerful as morphine and significantly more addictive. Approved by an official at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) who, a year later, took a high-paying job at Purdue, the drug contributed to the deaths of nearly 500,000 people over 20 years and wrecked the lives of millions more.

Keefe, who narrates his book, is no stranger to audio: many listeners will know his voice from the hit podcast Wind of Change, which investigated the rumour that the titular power ballad by German rockers Scorpions was written by the CIA. If the vibe there was one of amusement, here he adopts a calmly astonished tone as he tells a shocking story of callousness, cover-ups and monumental greed.

• Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty is available via Picador, 18hr 6min

Continue reading...


The Paper Lantern by Will Burns audiobook review – a compelling contemplation of country life

Community, class and the proliferation of men called Pete at the pub are explored as we follow our n...

Read More >

Ten Steps to Nanette by Hannah Gadsby audiobook review – startling candour

The standup narrates her soul-baring work, which pushes the boundaries of comedyHannah Gadsby’s mem...

Read More >

Down and Out by Daniel Lavelle review – a howl of fury about homelessness

Lavelle weaves his own experience together with the testimony of others in this powerful memoir abou...

Read More >

On Connection by Kae Tempest audiobook review – inside the creative impulse

The performance poet narrates their first nonfiction work, mixing memoir with musings on how creativ...

Read More >

Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason audiobook review – Emilia Fox captures the acerbic wit

The actor brings the dark humour of Mason’s novel to life as she narrates the story of how mental i...

Read More >

The Premonitions Bureau by Sam Knight review – astonishing adventures in precognition

How the Aberfan disaster prompted one psychiatrist to launch a nationwide search for ‘seers’ who c...

Read More >