ProPublica published a stunning article about the relationship between Michael Bloomberg and the Sackler family, and how they reached out to him for advice about how to handle their poor public relations and the opprobrium they encountered because of their role in the opioid crisis.

The article also goes into detail about Bloomberg’s reluctance to let his reporters delve into the private lives of other very rich people, perhaps because he didn’t want anyone delving into his private life.

Mortimer Sackler and Michael Bloomberg met at the Bloomberg LP offices in New York, joined by Bloomberg Philanthropies CEO Patricia Harris. A spokesperson for Bloomberg said he took the meeting out of courtesy. Bloomberg told Sackler that the company should develop a list of 10 talking points, according to people familiar with the conversation. He also encouraged Sackler to have a conversation with Bloomberg Philanthropies, a spokesperson for Sackler said.

After the meeting, Sackler asked Purdue’s communications team to create a list of media messages and send it to him for review. One former Purdue executive said Sackler continued to repeat Bloomberg’s advice on conference calls and at meetings into 2019. “He’ll say, ‘When I met with Mike Bloomberg, he said we need to have messages, so what are they?’” the executive recalled.

Bloomberg also helped the Sacklers find a crisis communications manager. He recommended his longtime mayoral spokesman Stu Loeser, who was running a private firm that touted his “political instincts and deep connections.”

A Bloomberg Philanthropies spokesperson said it was a purely professional recommendation. ”If someone were to ask Mike for a recommendation for a doctor, he’d send you to his physician,” the spokesperson said.

Purdue then hired Loeser, who unsuccessfully recommended that Purdue announce a program to combat the opioid epidemic. “I went into this thinking this was a family that had such a massive need to change things that they were willing to take on a massive project to help people. Obviously, that didn’t happen,” Loeser said. A spokesperson for Sackler family members denied Loeser’s account, and said he didn’t propose such an initiative while working for the company.

Mortimer Sackler followed up with Harris about speaking with the head of public health initiatives at Bloomberg Philanthropies, Kelly Henning. Harris responded that Henning was “very eager to meet.” In February 2018, Sackler, Loeser and Purdue CEO Craig Landau discussed the opioid epidemic with Henning at the philanthropies’ offices.

There are conflicting accounts of the proposals Sackler made at that meeting. Henning said Sackler proposed that the two organizations collaborate on a media campaign. She said he implied that drug abusers were to blame for the opioid crisis. “He presented that it’s the people’s fault, not the industry’s fault,” she said.

OxyContin’s makers delayed the reckoning for their role in the opioid crisis by funding think tanks, placing friendly experts on leading outlets, and deterring or challenging negative coverage.
A spokesperson for Sackler said that he offered to team up with Bloomberg Philanthropies to help fight the opioid crisis, and that no media campaign was discussed. “The sole purpose of the meeting was to find ways to help find solutions to a serious health care problem,” the spokesperson said, adding that Sackler “does not now and never did believe or state that people suffering from addiction are to blame for their addiction.”

A Purdue Pharma spokesperson said Landau attended the meeting “to explore potential partnerships for the purpose of combating the abuse and diversion of prescription opioids.” It is “completely false” to suggest that there was any discussion of blaming the epidemic on drug abusers, the spokesperson said.

As public opinion turned against the family, Mortimer, the last remaining Sackler on the Purdue board, stepped down in January 2019. Two months later, the billionaires team finally measured the Sacklers’ wealth. It found that the family, despite its recent woes, was worth $13 billion. In April, the Serpentine Sackler Gallery said it has “no future plans to accept funding from the Sacklers.” Purdue filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in September.

Loeser no longer works for Purdue; he’s back with Bloomberg, serving as a spokesman for his presidential campaign. To focus on the campaign, Bloomberg has taken a temporary leave from chairing the Serpentine and Serpentine Sackler Galleries.