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LHBS Hosts Author of Empire of Pain

As part of the Annual H.R. Young Lecture Series, the Leon Hess Business School (LHBS) co-sponsored and featured guest speaker Patrick Radden Keefe on Thursday, April 7. Keefe is an award-winning staff writer at The New Yorker magazine and the author of the New York Times bestseller Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty.

The event, which took place at Pollak Theatre, was co-sponsored by the Council of Endowed Chairs, the Department of Art and Design, Division of Student Life, Monmouth University Police Department, the School of Social Work, Student Government Association, and the School of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Raj Devasagayam, Ph.D., Dean of the Leon Hess Business School, opened the night’s agenda by recounting parts of H.R. Young’s life, a revered trustee of the University and honoree of the event. “Young was a partner at Goldman Sachs, serving in various leadership positions over the course of 50 years. He was elected to Monmouth’s Board of Trustees in 1982,” started Devasagayam.

Having passed in 2002, Young’s partners at Goldman Sachs made several donations to Monmouth in honor of Young’s life and passion for education, establishing the annual lecture series as well as sponsoring the H.R. Young Auditorium in Bey Hall. Devasagayam explained,

Devasagayam turned over introductions to Professor of Economics and Kvernland Endowed Chair in Philosophy and Corporate Social Policy, Nahid Aslanbeigui, Ph.D., who was largely responsible for organizing the event. She opened, “We do not really know the true cost of the opioid crisis; however, by some estimates, the crisis has claimed 500,00 American lives.” Aslanbeigui elaborated on some of those theorized costs, emphasizing that approximations are evaluated at about $50 billion, yet, across the country, the legal settlements total only $6 billion.

Aslanbeigui introduced the night’s guest speaker, “Mr. Keefe has stellar qualifications, holding degrees from Columbia, Yale, Cambridge and the London School of Economics.”

Keefe took the stage by thanking the Leon Hess Business School for organizing the event as well as those in attendance. He introduced his background and his motivations for writing the book. “As it was previously mentioned, I am a staff writer at The New Yorker where I write these big investigative pieces,” Keefe said. “So, I don’t have one particular area of specialty, which allows me to move from one subject to another as it interests me. However, there are certain subjects that have come to occupy me over the years, and one of them is drugs.”

He clarified that his interest lies in the role of drugs in our society and culture, in addition to how our legal and economic systems treat different types of drugs, specifically legal vs illegal. In terms of OxyContin, which was the drug of discussion, it is legal when prescribed by a doctor; however, there is a growing black market, thereby making those transactions illegal. This is the duality that Keefe discussed.

“Historically, Mexican heroin was not a huge product in the U.S., but that started to change in 2010,” Keefe started. “That is the riddle behind the origin of this book, the Sackler family, and Purdue Pharma – Why is it that suddenly in 2010 law enforcement began to find more Mexican heroin on the streets in the US?”

Keefe made note of the habit American media and politics have when describing the cross-border flow of drugs between Mexico and the U.S. He said, “There is a tendency of the U.S. to think of it purely as a supply side issue. Reality is, American consumers were eyeing more heroin.” Keefe concluded that this increase in demand is a result of the opioid crisis, describing it as, “A slow moving, public health epidemic that has taken form these last 25 years or so.”

The rest of Keefe’s lecture consisted of him broadly narrating the chronology of his book, breaking down the dynasty that came of the Sackler family. His lecture was widely attended by many of the University community, including students and professors from various academic disciplines.

Instructor in the Management and Leadership Department within the LHBS, Joe Palazzolo, Ed.D., reflected on Keefe’s lecture. He said, “Nearly every person has been impacted by, or knows someone impacted by, the opioid epidemic. To hear the story behind how these drugs made their way on to our streets and into our neighborhoods was jarring…His message is one that our community needed to hear, and one that I hope spreads far and wide.”

Giverny Risse, a business undergraduate in attendance, said, “I am not a health studies major, I have never heard of the Sackler family prior to the lecture, and I don’t have any real connection to the opioid epidemic; however, I think this lecture opened the audience’s eyes to the fact that many of the Sacklers’ techniques continue to affect the way big pharma and the medical field generally operates.”

Another business major, Jacqueline Bollwage, had a similar perspective to that of Risse, “Personally, I did not know the extent of the opioid crisis that was precipitated by Purdue Pharma, so I walked away with a lot of knowledge and am glad I got to experience the presentation…We should have more events like this so that students can learn about topics that might interest them yet don’t have the chance to cover in the classroom.”