TV & Movies

Where Is Richard Sackler From Painkiller Now?

The former Purdue Pharma president has legal immunity, but there is a condition.

Uzo Aduba and Matthew Broderick in 'Painkiller.' Photo via Netflix
Keri Anderson/Netflix

Netflix’s Painkiller explores the rise of OxyContin and the opioid crisis through fictionalized depictions of the people most affected — and those behind the scenes, too, such as the owners of Purdue Pharma: the Sackler family. The series specifically follows Richard Sackler, Purdue Pharma’s former president and co-chairman (played by Matthew Broderick), as a key player in the drug’s boom in America.

Painkiller shows that Sackler gave a deposition about OxyContin in 2015 as part of a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma — but notes that neither he, nor any member of his family, “has been criminally charged in connection with the marketing of OxyContin or any overdose deaths involving the drug.” So, where is Richard Sackler today?

According to Patrick Radden Keefe, who wrote the New Yorker article the series is partially based on, the Sacklers “almost never speak publicly about the family business.” In his piece, Keefe (who serves as an executive producer on Painkiller) also cited an opioid researcher who said he’s “never even seen Richard Sackler” in real life. So it’s clear that Sackler is a very private person. However, there have been a few updates about the company’s former president and co-chairman since the events of Painkiller.

Keri Anderson/Netflix

For example, you can actually read or view Sackler’s 8-hour deposition from 2015. STAT and ProPublica published the testimony in 2019 — marking a rare instance of a Sackler family member actually discussing OxyContin.

In his article, Keefe reported that Sackler was living in Austin, Texas as of 2017 after teaching genetics at Rockefeller University. According to the New York Post, he reportedly moved to Boca Raton, Florida, after that.

As for Purdue Pharma? In May, a federal appeals court ruled that the Sackler family “will be shielded from all civil opioid claims related to their company,” which is proceeding with bankruptcy, as The New York Times explains. But the Sacklers will have to pay up to $6 billion “to be used largely on measures to abate the opioid crisis, such as treatment and prevention programs.” The outlet describes the immunity as a “golden key” for the Sacklers, adding that they “will still be very wealthy” when all is said and done.

In addition, Purdue Pharma will be restructured as Knoa Pharma — and the Sacklers won’t be involved.

Though the latest developments may be a “win” for the Sacklers, the family hasn’t avoided scrutiny in other spaces. For example, the Yale School of Medicine had lauded the Sacklers’ multi-million-dollar donations and “transformative legacy” as recently as 2014, even describing Richard Sackler as a “steadfast friend.” But in 2022, the Yale Daily News reported that the school was “pursu[ing] a separation from the Sackler name.”

If you or someone you know is seeking help for substance use, call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).