Known as Museum Donors, Sackler Family Now Under More Scrutiny in OxyContin Lawsuits

Temple of Dendur in The Sackler Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.
Temple of Dendur in The Sackler Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.
(Wikimedia Commons)

Long-celebrated as arts and culture philanthropists, the Sackler family is increasingly in headlines for their company's role in pushing OxyContin, the prescription drug that has helped fuel a nationwide opioid epidemic. A legal filing filed in Massachusetts last week newly alleges that 8 Sackler family members (and other board members of Purdue Pharma) downplayed the painkiller's risks of lethal overdose in its aggressive marketing.

Some Sackler family members who served on the company's board “controlled Purdue’s misconduct,” alleges Massachusetts Attorney General Maura T. Healey in the 274-page court filing.

From the Boston Globe: "The allegations could tarnish a name that is best known for its generosity to museums worldwide including New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, which has a Sackler wing, and London’s Tate Modern. The Sackler name also is on a gallery at the Smithsonian, a wing of galleries at London’s Royal Academy of Arts and a museum at Beijing’s Peking University. The family’s best known and most generous donor, Arthur M. Sackler, died nearly a decade before OxyContin was released." [Arthur's brothers bought his shares after his death.]

Lawsuits are pending in other states, with some of the Sacklers named in cases, including a massive consolidated federal case in Ohio.

Esquire wrote in fall 2017 about the estimated $14 billion pharma fortune, which ballooned with OxyContin sales, that the Sacklers used to bankroll museums, prompting a public outcry.

Activists have now renewed their call for Harvard University to remove the name Arthur M. Sackler from its museum containing Asian, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean art, reports the Harvard Crimson.

Photographer Nan Goldin's organization, P.A.I.N. or Prescription Addiction Intervention Now, has brought activists together to throw pill bottles into the Smithsonian and the Arthur M. Sackler Museum at Harvard.

“I think they [the implicated Sackler family members] need to be in prison,” Goldin said to wbur. “These are some of the biggest dealers in America."

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