In the 2005 political thriller, The Constant Gardener, Ralph Fiennes stars as a British diplomat in Kenya whose entire life is thrown into disarray when his wife(Rachel Weisz) is murdered. It soon becomes clear that his wife was murdered for her work with Amnesty International in investigating the malpractices of a Pharmaceutical company in Kenya. Like a constant gardener, Ralph Fiennes character must continue to dig and dig more and more into the case, finding shocking conclusions along the way. The movie shows us the lengths one man and woman were willing to go to hold what seemed like an untouchable corporation accountable, while also showing the horrible lengths that corporation will go to avoid that accountability. The pharmaceutical company had developed a profitable drug to supposedly treat tuberculosis, but it becomes evident that the drug is killing people despite still being pushed by the company as a necessity even though they knew the poison they were selling.
Must we all now be constant gardeners? Though the movie takes place in Kenya and tackles other issues like racism and the horrible after effects of colonialism, it’s implications still hold crucial for today’s current political climate in the United States as our country wrestles with how exactly to hold giant pharmaceutical companies like Purdue Pharma accountable for the Opioid crisis. Yesterday Purdue Pharma declared for bankruptcy in White Plains, New York soon after it reached tentative agreements with state and local governments suing the company over the toll it’s caused per Geoff Mulvihill of the Associated Press. The settlement could be worth around 12 billion, but the legal fights are not over, as many still want to continue to dig and dig into the truth breadth of the companies crimes and hold it more accountable than simply monetary value.
Purdue Pharma is owned by the extremely rich Sackler family, who produced and aggressively peddled the powerful pain-killer Oxycontin beginning in 1996. After that point, addiction and overdoses grew at an alarming rate but the death toll that Opioids such as Oxycontin have taken in the last few years are staggering. According to Mulvihill, from the years 2017-2018, 47,000 people lost their lives to Opioid related deaths. Like the Pharmaceutical company in the Constant Gardener, the drug was continually advocated by the Sackler family for more use despite the clear dangers it held. As Mulvihill explains “Purdue’s drugs are just a slice of the opioids prescribed, but critics assign a lot of the blame to the company because it developed both the drug and an aggressive marketing strategy. According to a lawsuit filed by the Massachusetts attorney general, the company pushed big sales of OxyContin from the start. Doing so meant persuading doctors who had been reluctant to prescribe such strong painkillers that this one was safe.” This is most evident in one court filing, which asserts that at one launch party Richard Sackler told a sales team “The launch of OxyContin Tablets will be followed by a blizzard of prescriptions that will bury the competition. The prescription blizzard will be so deep, dense, and white.” The company managed to pay doctors to give more of their product, fund organizations that advocated for more of their product prescribed, and also became politically active to further help sales of the drug and peddle it as non addictive. The beginning of the crisis especially devastated rural areas like Appalachia but in the last few years urban areas are seeing rates climb alarmingly high as well. Looking at opioid related death statistics from the last decade starkly shows the increase in both types of areas. Per Drugabuse.gov, West Virginia has the highest age adjusted rate of Opioid related deaths. In 2017 there were 833 deaths in the state related to Opioids, a rate of 49.6 deaths per 100,000 people. In 2010, the number was half that rate and nationally the number is 14.6 meaning West Virginias rate is nearly 3.5 times higher than the national average. Here in Illinois the rate is 17.2 and the number of deaths related to prescription opioids nearly doubled from the years 2014 through 2017.
Many who want to hold the Sackler’s accountable are wary of the settlement because Corporations tend to find ways to protect themselves from actually giving out the monetarily value settled on. It doesn’t help that there are assertions that the Sackler’s have transferred about one billion dollars to themselves from Swiss and other secret accounts, furthering the fear that the company will not be truly punished. Another issue for many is the question about why the Sackler family shouldn’t be held criminally accountable. As in the Constant Gardener, this company knew what it was selling and that it wasn’t non addictive. This can be argued was the company knowingly letting people die to sell their product. Holding Corporations criminally accountable has never been easy, in fact it’s been close to impossible. But this crisis has caused a political awakening in many outraged by the complete callousness of a company and family that already had so much but was willing to peddle a dangerous drug for even more. We don’t know the full lengths these companies will go to keep themselves from being truly accountable, but it seems evident they will likely go far. But like constant gardeners, we must continue to dig and dig and dig into the crimes committed by these corporations.