Patrick Radden Keefe’s new book, “Empire of Pain,” is a history of the Sacklers, the family behind Purdue Pharma, the creator of the powerful painkiller OxyContin, which became the root of the opioid crisis in the United States. One of the subjects covered in Keefe’s investigative work is what the company knew, and when, as the crisis began to unfold.
“One thing I was able to establish very definitively in the book is that, in fact, there is this paper trail, really starting in 1997, so just a year after the drug is released, of sales reps sending messages back saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got a problem here. People are abusing this drug,’” Keefe says. “And there’s very high-level discussion by senior executives at the company, some of whom subsequently testified under oath that they didn’t know anything about this until early 2000. In terms of the timeline, it’s very hard to reconcile what they have always said publicly and what I was able to substantiate with internal documents.”
Elisabeth Egan, an editor at the Book Review, is on the podcast this week to discuss “What Comes After,” by JoAnne Tompkins, the latest pick for Group Text, our monthly column for readers and book clubs. The novel starts with the deaths of two high school students, and becomes a mystery when we meet Evangeline McKensey, a pregnant 16-year-old with a connection to the dead boys.
“I am the mother of three teenagers, and I’m constantly looking for the book that makes me feel a little better about how little I know about what’s running through my kids’ heads at any given time,” Egan says. “There was something about this book that felt reassuring to me, as strange as that sounds because it begins with this terrible tragedy. But it’s really, actually a book about life.”
Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history during this year of its 125th anniversary, and Lauren Christensen and John Williams talk about what they’ve been reading. Pamela Paul is the host.
Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”:
“Crusoe’s Daughter” by Jane Gardam
“The Secret Lives of Church Ladies” by Deesha Philyaw
“True Grit” by Charles Portis
“Klara and the Sun” by Kazuo Ishiguro