HealthCommentary

Exploring Human Potential

Common Pathways – Donald, Arthur, & Rudy.

Posted on | October 3, 2019 | No Comments

Mike Magee

Hardly a week passes without his golden lettered name being pried off another building.  As his name has been torn down, so has his reputation.  His skills as a salesperson are chronicled in an advertising hall of fame, his alliances held secret, his business tactics borrowed from the mob, his empire built on the rubble of human misery, and his three wives tied forever to his secrets, his money, and his power.

His name is not Donald Trump. It is Arthur Sackler. Two peas in a pod – with a common third companion who I’ll get to in a moment.

But let’s stay with Sackler for now. In January, 1962, a Congressional staffer for the Kefauver Commission investigating the pharmaceutical industry described his shady enterprise as “a completely integrated operation in that it can devise a new drug in its drug development enterprise, have the drug clinically tested and secure favorable reports on the drug.”

Two years earlier, Arthur Sackler had launched a house organ, the Medical Tribune, a publication that, in time, reached more than a million physicians each week, publishing editorials that supported free enterprise and the unified political agenda of the American Medical Association and the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association. These columns labeled by some at the time as “fake news” promoted the AMA and drug industry’s friends and hammered its foes. Beneficiaries of his largesse like famous heart surgeon, Michael DeBakey, were quick to shower praise on him. He called Sackler’s Medical Tribune “the best medical publication in the English speaking world.” In return, their careers flourished as they moved up an integrated career ladder from academics to government to industry and back again.

Like Trump, Arthur carefully polished his own image, presenting himself as a highly respected New York City academician, a brilliant cutting-edge research psychiatrist, and a compassionate physician dedicated first and foremost to his patients’ welfare. But care always took a back seat to getting rich. In 1937, he completed both college and medical school in record time, and married his well-to-do first wife, Else Finnich Jorgenson. As other medical graduates volunteered for the Army Medical Corps, Sackler like Trump managed to sidestep military service. Instead he signed on as head of medical affairs for Schering Corp., an American based subsidiary of German parent, Schering A.G. Two years later, the company was seized by the US government with other “German interests.”

With Schering gone, he joined the William Douglas MacAdams Advertising Agency in 1942, and by 1947 gained a controlling interest in the firm.  From that safe perch, he witnessed a stream of over 1 million psychiatric casualties returning from WW II, and enrolled in the New York residency program at Creedmore Mental Institution on Long Island. With access to 7000 plus in-patients, there was no shortage of human subjects. Experimenting with a variety of agents, including sex hormones and histamine, on patients with psychosis, Arthur churned out papers advancing his questionable theories in home-made scientific journals which celebrated his own brilliance.

In the decade that followed, as agent of record for Pfizer, he invented the “detail man”, a drug professional who provided doctors with “details”, trinkets, and new drug samples. He produced the first TV commercials for drugs. He purchased a fledgling pharmaceutical manufacturer, Purdue Frederick, later renamed Purdue Pharma. And he became a silent investor in a data firm that would soon develop the capacity to spy on physician prescribing patterns. That strategic information would be sold to drug companies and allow micro-targeting of physicians to push drug sales.

Sadly, his company, Purdue Pharma, also ignited the current opioid epidemic which claimed 70,000 U.S. lives in 2018. But like Trump, Sackler’s destructive legacy runs far deeper, and is more pervasive and pernicious. His Hall of Fame proclamation states, “It can be said that Dr. Sackler helped shape pharmaceutical promotion as we know it today.” In doing so, he helped condition us to look for the quick fix in the form of a pill. In Arthur’s world, physicians oblige that patient reflex with sloppy prescribing stoked by massive budgets for direct-to-consumer advertising.

If the values, tactics, and motives of Donald Trump and Arthur Sackler closely mirror each other, one might easily predict that the two families would turn to similar “fixers” when faced with a deadly financial threat. It should come then as no surprise then that Purdue Pharma in 2002, when confronted by the Bush Administration’s DEA to account for astounding increases in deaths from OxyContin overdoses, turned to the same individual that today is linked at the hip to only the 3rd US President to face impeachment. That fixer’s name – the third pea in this pod – is Rudy Giuliani.

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