Brian Mann

Late in Patrick Radden Keefe's brutal, multigenerational treatment of the Sackler family, Empire of Pain, he offers a jarring anecdote.

It's 2019. The scandal surrounding OxyContin, Purdue Pharma and the Sacklers' role in America's devastating opioid epidemic is front-page news. Hundreds of people are dying every day from overdoses.

But Joss Sackler, a designer and businesswoman married to David Sackler (who had left Purdue Pharma's board a year earlier) is busy in New York City hustling up a crowd for her spring fashion line.

Drug deaths spiked dramatically during a period that includes the first six months of the pandemic, up roughly 27% compared with the previous year, the acting head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy said Thursday.

"We lost 88,000 people in the 12-month period ending in August 2020," Regina LaBelle told reporters during a morning briefing. "Illicitly manufactured fentanyl and synthetic opioids are the primary drivers of this increase."

Imagine you're part of a project that goes horribly wrong at work, causing a scandal, costing your company a ton of money, maybe even putting people at risk. Now imagine after that kind of performance your company rewards you with a raise and a bonus.

Critics say that's happening right now with CEOs at big drug and health care companies tangled up in the opioid crisis.

"When leadership fails ... the board of directors have to be willing to hold their executives accountable," said Shawn Wooden, Connecticut's state treasurer.

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Updated March 24, 2021 at 4:25 PM ET

Federal bankruptcy Judge Robert Drain extended an injunction on lawsuits against members of the Sackler family, owners of Purdue Pharma, until April 21.

Drain made the ruling Wednesday from his court in White Plains, N.Y., while urging parties to move swiftly to hash out a final deal over the future of the embattled drug company.

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