The Bluestocking, vol 207
a vast intelligence we are trying to talk to with molecules
Last weekend I read EMPIRE OF PAIN, by Patrick Radden Keefe, a history of the Sackler family, and their development of the widely abused painkiller OxyContin. It’s very New Yorker-ish (said with love): heavy on telling details, bracingly chronological, and light on overt judgement. It leaves the reader to draw their own conclusions about Arthur Sackler, a psychiatrist who developed aggressive marketing strategies for Valium and other tranquillisers, and whose brothers Raymond and Mortimer (and particularly Raymond’s son Richard) turned their family pharmaceutical into a billion-dollar juggernaut.
The family went all in with OxyContin, a painkiller with a patented “time release” coating which was supposed to deter addiction, and which it took people all of five minutes to realise could be circumvented by simply crushing the pills. Radden Keefe presents compelling evidence that OxyContin created the American opioid crisis, turning a generation of chronic pain sufferers into Oxy addicts—and then some of them into heroin addicts when the Oxy supply faltered.
This is both a family story and an American story—the lack of regulation, the argument that OxyContin addicts were just “weak” people or had taken the drug off-label, and now the tragic coda that a fusillade of lawsuits has bankrupted the family firm, but not before the family sucked billions out of it.
I get quite jaundiced reading business books, and this is no exception. It’s the story of a family with a single terrible idea—let’s aggressively market an addictive drug while denying its harmful effects—leading to absurd wealth. It’s also the story of captured regulators: the FDA official who approves the drug winds up at the Sackler firm less than two years later. And the bigger the offence, the smaller the consequences. Murder one person and you can get the death penalty. Sell a drug that starts thousands on a journey towards death, and you get . . . expensive lawyers telling you that you’re the victim of a witch hunt.
Anyway, that seems an appropriate place to end, because this week’s Bluestocking contains some other reflections on victimhood.
Amanda Knox Was Exonerated. That Doesn’t Mean She’s Free (New York Times)
While she was on trial in Italy, friends described her as naïve, goofy, unconventional, harmless, trusting, sheltered, blunt and a little bit of a rebel. “She’s strong willed, and that has even become more so,” her mother said. Ms. Knox describes herself as something of a lifelong oversharer who, as a teenager, would ask the girls on the soccer team about their periods, and told her mother the first time she smoked pot. “She is porous with her boundaries,” said Taigé Lauren, a friend she studied poetry with in college.
Indeed, there is an unfilteredness to Ms. Knox that some might find disarming. She is prone to break into song (her voice, for the record, is quite beautiful), is not shy to talk about bodily fluids, and will happily tell a reporter about the time she and Mr. Robinson went to DomCon, a dominatrix convention, where she ended up stripping to her thong and being flogged in a hotel ballroom with other attendees. (It’s something of a miracle that story did not leak.)
Amanda Knox’s unwillingness/inability to live a quiet, low-key life that makes her look innocent and wronged is intriguing to me. She won’t, or can’t, play society’s idea of what a victim looks like.
In 2010, [Meirion] Jones and [Liz] MacKean won the Daniel Pearl award for investigative journalism for their report on Trafigura’s toxic waste dumping in Ivory Coast, co-authored with the Guardian. Paxman told me: “Meirion’s like a dog with a bone. I always took it as read that if Meirion said something was true, it was true. Even though there might be very expensive lawyers for the other side, I always believed him. And he worked with Liz. They were not what you’d call ‘clubbable’. I admired Liz very much. She was a difficult woman, but the best journalists very often are difficult.” Because Jones and MacKean had been given freedom to get on with their work in the past, when their editor questioned whether they had done enough on the Savile story, it was a shock.
The world needs difficult people, part 94. Also, here’s another story of victims who were overlooked for not being “perfect”.
Note to self: rewatch Jonathan Creek (also by David Renwick).
“I asked the ultimate authority, my friend Edie who I lived with in New Orleans, and who is the cleverest person I know. And a doctor. She lives in upstate New York but I would trust her above all others. She was sympathetic to anyone who fears miscarriage, but she wrote that so far everything was showing that the vaccine was safe for pregnant woman. She writes like a poet ‘The invisible dance of the immune system. Such a vast intelligence we are trying to talk to with molecules.’” (Suzanne Moore on waiting for a baby, Substack)
A male footballer came out! (In Australia.) It’s amazing how all the rainbow laces campaigning still hasn’t led to any comparable English club player feeling safe enough to do the same.
See you next time!