How McKinsey, the World’s Most Elite Consulting Firm, Helped Turbocharge America’s Opioid Epidemic

What’s more, a key actor in Purdue Pharma’s deadly endeavor will be walking away with nothing but a PR headache to deal with. Mentioned extensively, though not actually named, in the settlement document[13] released by the DOJ in October is a “consulting company” said to have worked for Purdue since “approximately the mid-2000s.” Though anyone familiar with a recent lawsuit[14] against the corporation pursued by the state of Massachusetts could probably have ventured a guess as to the mysterious firm’s identity, court filings obtained by the New York Times made it official[15] late last month. As the Times reported:

Documents released . . . in a federal bankruptcy court in New York show that the adviser was McKinsey & Company, the world’s most prestigious consulting firm. The 160 pages include emails and slides revealing new details about McKinsey’s advice to members of the Sackler family, Purdue’s billionaire owners, and the firm’s now notorious plan to “turbocharge” OxyContin sales[16] at a time when opioid abuse had already killed hundreds of thousands of Americans.

Older and bigger than its major rivals, McKinsey is widely considered the gold standard in management consultancy — reportedly[17] serving more than two thousand institutions worldwide and advising many of the world’s most powerful governments and corporations. Once dubbed “the single greatest legitimizer of mass layoffs” by author[18] Duff McDonald, the company’s basic philosophy might be summed up as ruthless fealty to management, capital, and the market: the work of management consultancy is most often concerned, in the words[19] of former McKinsey consultant turned critic Anand Giridharadas, with “increasing investors’ share of profits by reducing labor’s share.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, its internal culture strongly mirrors the Ivy League context from which it so often recruits. As a 1993 article[20] in Fortune magazine put it: ​“Fellows from McKinsey sincerely do believe they are better than everybody else. Like several less purposeful organizations — Mensa, Bohemian Grove, Skull and Bones, the Banquet of the Golden Plate — McKinsey is elitist by design.” Though the company’s vast alumni network includes people of various political persuasions (Republicans Tom Cotton and Bobby Jindal, for example, are ex-McKinseyites), its overall ethos[21], much like that of a typical Ivy League school, is more culturally and politically liberal than conservative. As an anonymous former McKinsey consultant explained[22] last year:

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