Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe audiobook review – inside America’s opioid crisis | audio books

A remarkable piece of narrative reporting and a sweeping family saga, New York writer Patrick Radden Keefe’s award-winning book about the Sackler family and its role in America’s opioid crisis begins with the seemingly heart-warming tale of three Brooklyn brothers realizing the dreams of their immigrant parents by becoming doctors. The Sacklers went on to become one of the richest families in the US – they have an estimated fortune of $14bn – known for their philanthropy and feted for their donations to art galleries, universities and medical institutes.

Drawing on newly available court documents and more than 200 interviews, Empire of Pain reveals how the family made its money from the suffering of Americans through the aggressive sales techniques of Purdue, the Connecticut-based pharmaceutical company that became the biggest producer of OxyContin. The slow-release painkiller is twice as powerful as morphine and significantly more addictive. Approved by an official at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) who, a year later, took a high-paying job at Purdue, the drug contributed to the deaths of nearly 500,000 people over 20 years and wrecked the lives of millions more.

Keefe, who narrates his book, is no stranger to audio: many listeners will know his voice from the hit podcast Wind of Change, which investigated the rumor that the titular power ballad by German rockers Scorpions was written by the CIA. If the vibe there was one of amusement, here he adopts a calmly astonished tone as he tells a shocking story of callousness, cover-ups and monumental greed.

Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty is available via Picador, 18hr 6min

Further listening

my mess Is a Bit of a Life: Adventures in Anxiety
Georgia Pritchett, Faber, 4hr 13min
Katherine Parkinson narrates this bracingly candid and funny account of living with anxiety, from the writer of Succession and Veep.

Natasha Brown, Penguin Audio, 1hr 58mins
A well-to-do Black woman grapples with prejudice and Britain’s colonial legacy in this sharply observed debut novel. Pippa Bennett-Warner reads.


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