Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (2014–…): Season 6, Episode 8 - Opioids II - full transcript

John Oliver opens with a quick update about the infamous BREXIT. Then he talks about the news of arresting Julian Assange and how the media is focusing on his looks. After that he provides ...

Are you wondering how healthy the food you are eating is? Check it -
Welcome, welcome,

welcome to "last week tonight!"

I'm John Oliver.

Thank you so much
for joining us.

Just time for a quick
recap of the week.

And we're going to focus on a

couple of stories
out of britain.

First, brexit, which I believe

is short for "brain exit," the

official word for when

everything that makes sense goes

out the window and everyone is

just stupid all the time.

Britain was supposed to have

left the e. U. By Friday, but the

day before the deadline,
this happened.

The u. K. Is heading for a

Halloween brexit after the e. U.

Extended the deadline for

withdrawal until
October the 31st.

"Halloween brexit"?

Look, brexit is plenty scary

enough without adding
Halloween to it.

It's like we found out there was

a meteor rapidly approaching

earth and named it "weinstein."

It's overkill.

It's complete overkill
at that point.

But it is true, the brexit

deadline has been
delayed until October.

Now, what will they do
with the extra time?

Who knows?

It's hard to imagine that

unsolvable problems ‐‐ like how

to create a hard border with

Ireland without sparking

sectarian violence ‐‐

will suddenly be solved
within six months.

And many, many British people

seem exhausted by the extension.

I imagine in six months' time

we'll probably be in the same

place we're at now, another

stalemate where it's either

gonna get suspended ‐‐ extended

another six months or who knows?

Oh, god.

Another six months
talking about brexit?

Yeah, I can
see how she feels.

Or at least I could before

brexit interviews started

featuring people being casually

eaten by parrots when they talk.

I would trade another 18 months

of brexit to find out
more about that man.

Like "how did he
become a Yankees fan?"

And "is that his parrot?"

'Cause if it isn't, that is the

calmest I've seen someone stay

during a random televised
parrot attack.

This wasn't even the first time

that the deadline has
been pushed back.

Britain was supposed to leave on

march 29th.

And to hear some brexit

supporters tell it, that's when

it did happen.

The 29th of march should have

been the day we leave, and in my

eyes, we've left.

But it's not and you haven't.

So what?

In my eyes, we have.

Today is our independence day,

and whether we have it or not,

we're celebrating it.

Wait, wait,
wait, wait, wait.

Hold on, hold on.

If all that matters to brexit

supporters is what happens

"in their eyes," we may've found

Cancel brexit, but

allow everyone to say it

happened if it makes
them feel better.

That way, no devastating

economic consequences and brexit

supporters get to live happily

ever after in their own personal

"United Kingdom of
the imagination."

But that wasn't the only big

news out of britain.

There was also news concerning

Julian Assange, the most

controversial Australian export

since vegemite.

This week saw a
major development.

Julian Assange arrested.

Julian Assange, now with a

beard, carried out of the

Ecuadorian embassy by London's

metropolitan police.

That bedraggled
beard, lengthy hair.

Looking tired, looking older,

significantly much older.

Looking a very different man

than the one who went into that

embassy some seven years ago.

That's a weird tone to

take on a story that
is this important.

"Yes, his arrest sparks a

difficult debate about the

efficacy of journalistic

protections in the age of

cyber‐espionage, but
look how bad he looks!

He looks like a peeled potato

rolled in spiderwebs.

He looks like Kenneth
Branagh's ghost.

He looks like Gandalf
fucked his stick.

We're having fun.

We're having fun, aren't we?"

But, look, this is a big deal.

Julian Assange has now been

kicked out of the Ecuadorian

embassy after spending
seven years there.

And part of the reason they

may have wanted him out may be

that he did not make life easy

for his hosts.

There have been reports for

some time that assange was sort

of ‐‐ had outlived his welcome

there in the embassy for all

sorts of reasons, including

his ‐‐ you know, that his cat

had been making a mess and that

he was skateboarding
in the halls.

Stealing wi‐fi.

Oh, that's not all.

The ambassador also said that

assange's indoor soccer games

had destroyed embassy equipment

and the government had to

require him to start
cleaning his bathroom.

And, look, at some point in our

lives, we have all lived with

someone like this, and we wished

that we could have British

police carry them out of our

building like a hastily
rolled carpet.

And, look, it's easy to dislike

Julian Assange.

He first fled to the embassy to

escape extradition to Sweden on

rape charges, charges he denies.

And alongside the valuable

information that wikileaks has

helped release, they've also

recklessly published the

sensitive personal data of

hundreds of ordinary people,

potentially putting
lives at risk.

And that's not even getting into

the fact that wikileak's

publication of hacked emails in

2016 helped elect
trump president.

So you're allowed not to like

him, but America's current

attempts to extradite him hang

on a specific charge that many

press advocates find unsettling.

The u. S. Justice department

has charged him with conspiracy

to commit computer intrusion.

Authorities are accusing assange

of conspiring to crack a

password in order to obtain

classified government documents.

Now, that charge stems

from his correspondence with

Chelsea Manning before the

publication of classified

documents in 2010.

And on its face, it currently

seems more than a little flimsy,

prompting the committee to

protect journalists to call it

"troubling for press freedom,"

because the indictment's

language seems to criminalize a

broad range of legally protected

and common
journalistic activity.

And while it is still early at

this point and we don't know

what else assange might be

charged with, or even whether

the u. K. Will extradite him at

all, this story is worrying for


because journalistic freedoms

may be under threat.

And two, unfortunately, in order

to protect them, we may be

forced to utter the one phrase

in the english language scarier

than "Halloween brexit" and

that's, "I'm really sorry,

everyone, but it might actually

be time to defend
Julian Assange."

And now this.

And now, why
would you say that?

Amazon earned $92
million last quarter.

You know why?

'Cause they sell sex toys and

Walmart can't or
won't sell sex toys.

Amazon does.

A friend of mine works
in the warehouse.

He says they sell a ton of them.


I'm just telling you how it is.

Are you smelling me?

Eh, sniffing you a little bit.

You smell good.

Hooters girl Rachel
is here live.

How do I know?

I just touched her.

The weather is kind of like

Harvey weinstein, assaulting us

today with the heat
and temperatures.

Okay, Charlie, I'm going to

sit here and hang out with my

new best friend.

I think you two should get a

hotel room or something.

That's a lot of action
going on over there.

Everybody wants a yoga
girl, right, Jason?

That's right.

- All right, on that note...
- Moving on.

Our main story tonight
concerns drugs.

On one hand, America's war on

them has been a complete

catastrophe, but on the other

hand, it did also give

us this photo of Nancy Reagan

sitting on Mr. t's lap, so it

wasn't a complete loss.

And by the way, I pity the fool

that didn't think they were

gonna fuck after that.

Specifically, specifically,

we're going to talk
about opioids.

And if you're thinking, "hold

on, didn't you do a
show on this before?"

Yeah, we did one two
and a half years ago.

But tonight, we're going to do

an update for a couple
of key reasons.

First, the epidemic
is very much ongoing.

In 2017, opioid overdoses killed

more than 47,000 Americans.

And second, since then, we've

learned a lot more about many of

the companies involved, and some

of it has been amazing.

For instance, a criminal case

involving executives from the

drugmaker insys unearthed a

rap video they allegedly made to

motivate their sales force to go

out and sell a painkiller

containing the highly addictive

drug fentanyl.

Take a look.



Let's just stop for a moment to

unpack the line, "if you're

trying to ball, I'll substitute

you like a xylitol."

That is a reference to the key

ingredient in sugar‐free gum.

It is astonishingly, almost

impossibly lame.

It is genuinely difficult to

come up with a rap
that's lamer that that.

"Splash rules

everything around me.

Hanks get the mermaid.

Daryl Daryl Hannah y'all."

Now, is that lame?

Is that lame?


Is it lamer than
the insys video?

I think it's hard for you to

make that case.

And that rap video was just the

tip of the iceberg in terms of

new information now coming out

through numerous court cases.

So tonight, let's pull a few of

these new revelations together

and look at what we've learned

about how the first wave of the

opioid crisis began, because

it's a story of how major

companies acted wildly

irresponsibly, skirted any

meaningful consequences, and for

the most part, avoided
public scrutiny.

And let's start with
drug distributors.

These are the big three.

They're the companies

responsible for getting drugs to

pharmacies and hospitals.

They're supposed to alert

authorities if they notice

suspicious orders of
controlled substances.

But for a sense of just how

badly they failed to do that,

look at Kermit, West Virginia,

named, of course, because it's

where Kermit the frog lives with

his secret second family.

Oh, that's right.

He's in a thruple with

two salamanders named francois

and Gary, and they are
very, very happy.

It was never you, miss piggy.

It was him.

The amount of opioids sent to

Kermit, a town of just 400

people, was utterly ridiculous.

This undercover video of

Kermit's main pharmacy shows

scores of people picking up

prescriptions inside and at the

drive‐thru window.

More than 3 million doses of

hydrocodone were ordered by a

Kermit pharmacist, James wooley,

in one year.

It's true.

3 million doses to a
town of 400 people.

That's around 7500 pills for

every resident in Kermit.

And just to be clear, we mean

every resident in Kermit, not

every resident "in Kermit."

Kermit ‐‐ Kermit is a top, I'll

have you know.

Not that that is any
of your business.

But those sorts of figures

clearly should've caught the

attention of distributors.

In fact, the largest one,

mckesson, alone, shipped

5 million doses of opioids to

Kermit in just two years.

And that's just one example of

mckesson's reckless behavior.

And the problem is, at no point

were they effectively deterred.

In 2008, the DEA alleged

that mckesson had failed to

control its controlled

Mckesson agreed to pay a

$13 million fine ‐‐

that's all ‐‐ without admitting

wrongdoing, and also promised to

do better by implementing a

controlled substances
monitoring program.

But that emphatically
didn't work.

In fact, a DEA official later

wrote, "their bad acts had

continued and escalated

to a level of egregiousness not

seen before."

Because of course they did.

You can't put mckesson in charge

of monitoring mckesson.

If the bears in your zoo get out

at night and start mauling the

other animals, you don't

deputize one of the bears to

monitor the situation.

And I know what you're thinking.

"But, John, I've already bought

him a little sheriff's outfit to

wear and I think he'd
look great in it."

And yes, of course he would, but

at the end of the day, bears are

gonna bear.

It's just in their nature.

And again, before you say,

"well, I've spent quite a bit of

money designing a custom‐made

sheriff's badge just for him.

Don't you think the bear will

recognize the gravitas of that

symbol and feel compelled to

grow and change his
bear ways in some way?"

No, I don't, because
bears respect nothing.

They think the importance we

place on symbols and status

makes us weak, they value

nothing but blood and strength.

And I know what you're
going to say now.

"Is there anything I can do?"

And the answer, of course, is

no, because while you were

talking, sheriff
bear mauled you.

You're dead.


The point is, mckesson

monitoring itself clearly didn't

work, because in 2017, they

wound up agreeing to a bigger

fine, this time, $150 million,

which sounds like a lot, until

you realize that's less than one

one‐thousandth of their revenue

for one year.

And while today mckesson says

they've improved their

monitoring systems ‐‐ for

realsies this time,
pinky promise ‐‐

and they argue that they weren't

the ones setting the demand for

opioids at any point, even the

DEA agent in charge of their

case thought their
settlement was absurd.

How do you settle?

How do you say, it's okay, just,

"here, write this check this

time and ‐‐ and close this place

for a little bit, sign this

piece of paper."

How do you do that?


Put 'em in jail.

He's right.

Put 'em in jail!

And honestly, I'd watch an

entire show that's just that guy

telling me where to put things.

Mckesson executives?

"Put 'em in jail!"

These carrots?

"Put 'em in soup!"

This group of corgis?

"Put 'em in tiny boots!

They should be in boots!"

But that is the
big problem here.

For companies involved in the

opioid crisis, fines just became

the cost of doing business.

And throughout this crisis, it's

been difficult to find any real

accountability for the people

involved, and there may be no

more frustrating example of that

than purdue pharma, the

manufacturer behind oxycontin,

the drug that arguably

kickstarted the crisis.

Purdue famously aggressively

marketed oxycontin to doctors as

a less addictive painkiller that

could be used to treat common

conditions like backaches and

knee pain, which was
obviously untrue.

It would be like using cocaine

for a toothache.

Which, incidentally back in the

1800s, people actually did.

What an idea.

"My tooth hurt this morning, but

I took some medicine, and now

I'm really fucking psyched about

20 different business ideas.

I'm going to write a screenplay.

I know it's the 1800s!"

Purdue is owned by members of

the sackler family.

Collectively they're worth an

estimated $13 billion, which has

enabled them to proudly slap

their name on some truly

impressive monuments to other

people's talent.

The sackler name is on parts of

the met, the louvre, the museum

of natural history, the national

gallery in London, the royal

college of art, an institute at

Yale, a library at Oxford,

and the sackler crossing at the

royal botanic gardens.

Not bad for a family whose name

sounds like a hamburglar‐like

villain that steals testicles.

"Oh, no!

The sackler came in the middle

of the night, and now my penis

is shivering!"

The sacklers love putting their

names on things.

Although until very recently,

they've been miraculously good

at keeping their name off the

opioid crisis.

But that is now changing with

protests like this.

In New York City this

weekend, protesters flooded the

guggenheim museum.

They dropped fake prescription

slips from the upper walkway,

angry that the museum takes big

donations from the sackler

family, which has been accused

of engineering the
opioid epidemic.


Look, I know this isn't the

point, but spare a thought for

the guggenheim janitor who has

to clean all that up.

Dennis didn't take millions from

the pharmaceutical industry.

Dennis gets $15 an hour and

maybe the occasional chance to

masturbate on a cezanne.

Look, look, hey.

I didn't say he was
a good janitor.

I just said you should
think about him.

The reason for this change in

public perception is a dawning

realization at just how deeply

some of the sacklers were

involved, because unlike most

second‐generation heirs to a

family fortune, some
were very hands‐on.

Richard sackler worked at purdue

throughout the crisis, serving

as president from 1999 to 2003,

and served on the board along

with seven other family members.

And now, thanks to a number of

lawsuits filed by various

states, we're getting glimpses

of Richard's involvement.

Massachusetts alleges that

Richard sackler at one point

demanded to be sent into the

field with sales reps
on visits to doctors.

In fact, his micromanagement was

apparently so extreme that

purdue's vp of sales and

marketing wrote to the ceo,

"anything you can do to reduce

the direct contact of Richard

into the organization
is appreciated."

And going by some of his

statements, this micromanagement

was in service of a
pretty clear purpose.

According to newly filed

court documents, when oxycontin

was first released,

Richard sackler, purdue's former

president and son of the company

founder, is quoted saying at a

company event that the launch

would be followed by a "blizzard

of prescriptions."

Amazingly, the full

quote is actually worse.

He calls it "a blizzard of

prescriptions that will bury the

competition," and then goes on

to say "the blizzard will be so

deep, dense, and white."

And, look, as a tagline for

"frozen 2," that's pretty good,

but it's troubling when applied

to addictive fucking

And Richard sackler's glib tone

continued, even as purdue began

to see the consequences of the

drugs that they were pushing.

At the dawn of the opioid

epidemic, when 59 deaths were

reported in a single state,

purdue's president wrote, "this

is not too bad.

It could have been far worse."


That is both callous and also

completely besides the point,

because the phrase "it could

have been worse" can be applied

to literally anything.

In fact, one of the only things

it cannot apply to is

Richard sackler's statement

regarding those 59 deaths.

And I have to say, I'm just not

sure the full horror of that

comment comes across when you

just hear a guy
reading it on TV.

And the problem is, we have to

use clips like that because

there are no clips
of Richard sackler.

He never does interviews.

Even that photo is one of only a

small handful we could find.

And think of how remarkable that

is in and of itself.

He's an incredibly rich man, and

it's genuinely easier to find

multiple image options of birds

standing on turtles or babies

that look like Wallace Shawn.

And lets all agree, those babies

look a lot like Wallace Shawn.

And this ‐‐ this invisibility

feels deliberate.

And whether it is or not, it has

definitely been convenient for

Richard sackler, because it's

honestly hard to tell the story

of his time at purdue
without any video.

There is only so long anyone

will listen to someone at a desk

reading from court documents.

Trust me, I know that.

I'm painfully aware of that.

So tonight, we've actually done

something unusual.

To help you get the emotional

impact of Richard sackler's

actual words, we got
an actor to play him.

So let's ‐‐ let's try that last

quote again.

Richard sackler, a news article

about oxycontin addiction says

it's caused 59 deaths
in a single state.

How do you respond?

This is not too bad.

It could have been far worse.

That's right.

We got Michael fucking Keaton.

Because ‐‐ and
I'll tell you why.

Because when you're casting for

a shadowy heir to a vast fortune

who doesn't like to be in the

limelight, you go Batman.

And, look, that helps
a little bit, right?

Here, let's try another one.

As evidence mounted that oxy was

causing widespread addiction,

sackler urged the company to

publicly blame those
who were addicted.

Michael Keaton, what
did he actually write?

We have to hammer on the

abusers in every way possible.

They are the culprits
and the problem.

They are reckless criminals.

genuinely wrote that.

Not only does that come off as

malicious and cold‐hearted, it

also doesn't make any sense.

He's furious at people who are

part of the problem, but the

people he's angry at helped make

him incredibly rich.

You don't see Adam levine

releasing a song condemning

horny middle‐aged women because

that would be hypocritical.

Who do you think made you who

you are, Adam?

It's your "just dangerous

enough for suburban moms to

masturbate to" energy that got

you where you are today.

Show some respect
for your base, son.

Now, now, for legal reasons, I

have to tell you the sacklers

and purdue insist the family

didn't cause the opioid crisis

and vigorously deny the claims

in the lawsuits we've mentioned,

saying that Richard sackler's

comments have been taken out of

context, with quotes

cherry‐picked from among tens of

millions of other emails and

business documents.

But two things about that.

First, whenever they've added

context, it hasn't
really helped much.

For instance, their explanation

for sackler saying the news of

59 deaths was "not too bad" was

that he was "merely commenting

about the nature of recent press

coverage," which is not better

in any meaningful way.

As for that "blizzard of

prescriptions" line, they've

claimed the full context for

that is that his remarks were an

allusion to his delayed arrival

at that event due to the

well‐known blizzard of 1996.

Which, again, in no
way exonerates him.

"Oh, hey, guys.

It's not like Richard was

recklessly and callously

anticipating oxycontin's

popularity while
it was sunny out.

It was snowing.


And the thing is, for a family

that complains about a lack of

context, they have fought

tirelessly to withhold it,

because time and again, they

have settled cases on the

condition that evidence will be

sealed and unavailable
to the public.

In fact, a few years back,

purdue settled a lawsuit with

Kentucky on the condition that

the state a. G. Destroy

17 million pages of documents.

17 million pages.

That's an actual blizzard of

context that they did not want

anyone to see.

And you can kind of see why,

because just the glimpses of

information we've seen recently

resulted in that guggenheim

protest, which, in turn, led to

the museum deciding to stop

taking funding
from the sacklers.

And the guggenheim is not the

only institution cutting ties.

The sacklers and London's

national portrait gallery have

mutually agreed to call off a

planned donation $1.3
million donation.

It's true, the

portrait gallery bailed on the

sacklers too.

And I know that, as punishments

go, getting to keep $1.3 million

doesn't sound all
that fucking bad.

But keep in mind that these

people have infinite money and

seem to enjoy nothing more than

using it to purchase
social status.

So not getting to put their name

on things may be a
real punishment.

But I would argue that should

only be half of it.

The other half is having to put

their name on the opioid crisis

they've fought so hard to

distance themselves from.

And that public accounting is

starting to become possible

despite the fact that

Richard sackler has barely

appeared in public.

And there's actually a

tantalizing development, because

a few weeks ago, the transcript

of a video deposition that

Richard sackler gave in that

Kentucky case ‐‐ the case,

remember, where 17 million

documents were destroyed ‐‐

leaked to pro publica
and stat news.

This is it right here.

This is the thing purdue really

didn't want anyone to see.

And there is some
damning stuff in here.

The really effective thing would

be to see the video of this

deposition, but purdue is

fighting ferociously hard to

keep it under seal,
which benefits them.

As you've seen tonight,

newscasters reading quotes will

only get you so far.

But we have the deposition, and

you should know, Michael Keaton

is not the only actor we got to

play Richard sackler.

In fact, we got multiple actors

to read parts of sackler's

deposition, word‐for‐word.

And who better to convey the

arrogance of an early exchange

about sackler's involvement in

purdue than someone responsible

for playing one of the greatest

drug dealers in
television history?

On July 30th of 2014, were

you a director of
purdue pharma inc?

Not that I'm aware.

This is an affidavit filed in

the Southern district
of West Virginia.

And does that appear
to be your name?

That does.

And it's dated July 30, 2014.

It says "declaration of

Dr. Richard s. Sackler.

I am a director of

purdue pharma inc, the general

partner of purdue pharma llp.

I've held this
position since 1990."

If that's what it says, then

that's what it says.

Wow, Richard sackler

came off like a real
dick there, right?

Certainly more so than if I'd

just read that to you.

And since we had Bryan cranston,

we didn't stop there.

Because this deposition also

contains an excerpt of a speech

that sackler gave when oxycontin

was launched, bragging about how

quickly purdue got the
fda to approve it.

So we had him go full

Walter white on that one too.

This didn't just happen.

It was a deftly coordinated

planned event that took dozens

of workers years of
effort to succeed.

The most demanding new drug

approval package for any

analgesic product ever submitted

didn't languish at the agency.

Unlike the years that other

filings linger at fda, this

product was approved
in 11 months, 14 days.

Our previous best approval time

for other products was measured

in years, not months.

God, I felt that
in my fucking bones.

And, look, sure, we
could've stopped there.

Those two actors are
already incredible.

But then we remembered,
this is hbo.

And if we want someone to read

the shit out of another

email that Richard
sackler wrote, this one

characterizing his
devotion to oxycontin,

we have access to the cast of

another iconic drug drama.

Brace yourselves, everyone.

Omar comin'.

You won't believe how

committed I am to make oxycontin

a huge success.

It is almost that I've dedicated

my life to it.


And, look, the only problem is,

all of these actors
are pretty cool.

And Richard sackler
decidedly is not.

And so to embody the fact that

he responded "I don't know" more

than 100 times during his

deposition, we asked

Richard kind to read just a

selection of them.

How much money has purdue or

purdue pharma made?

I don't know.

Do know how much the sackler

family has made up a
sale of oxycontin?

I don't know.

Who is Lydia Johnson?

I don't know.

I don't know.

I don't know.

I don't know.

I don't know.

How many purdue
entities are there?

I don't know!

Pretty effective, huh?

And Richard sackler might say,

"I didn't sound like that," but

we don't know that if we can't

see the tape, which is why he

should absolutely allow
it to be released.

But if he doesn't, we can only

imagine what was going on during

his deposition.

For instance, maybe he was

sloppily eating a Turkey

sandwich during this actual

exchange about
oxycontin addiction.

Have you made any effort, or

as we sit here today, do you

know how many patients who took

oxycontin in Kentucky became

dependent or addicted?


Do you believe that an

inappropriate number of patients

or an excessive number of

patients who took oxycontin in

Kentucky became
addicted or dependent?


Do you know or has purdue

made any effort to ascertain how

many people who were started on

oxycontin wound up becoming

dependent and moving on to

heroin at some point?


Why would he eat a

sandwich during such a
serious deposition?

I mean, yes, maybe he didn't,

but it would be so easy for

Richard sackler to
prove he didn't.

The point is, until he does,

we've uploaded videos of four

different Richard sacklers

reading extracts from his emails

and deposition to

sure they'll enjoy.

They love having their names on

fucking galleries.

We've also linked to various

state lawsuits at the site so

that you can read
them for yourself.

The point here is,

Richard sackler's deposition

should not be something purdue

gets to bury like it's buried so

many other things
over the years.

So please go to the website and

watch and use the
clips as you see fit.

So if Richard sackler wanted

context, then guess what?

This is it.

It is a blizzard of context!

Deep, dense, and white!

You're welcome, sackler family!

That's our show!

Thanks so much for watching!

See you next week!

Good night!

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!