Museums Reject Sackler Donations As New York Adds Another Lawsuit Naming Family Members

The Sackler Courtyard, V&A Exhibition Road Quarter.  Image © Hufton + Crow
The Sackler Courtyard, V&A Exhibition Road Quarter. Image © Hufton + Crow

The billionaire Sackler family faces a fresh lawsuit from the state of New York over the role of some of its members in the opioid crisis.

As owners of Purdue Pharma, makers of the opioid painkiller OxyContin, several Sackler family members are under scrutiny for aggressively marketing a drug that has contributed to an epidemic resulting in over 200,000 deaths in the U.S. This week, Oklahoma reached a $270 million settlement with the Sacklers and Purdue Pharma.

On Thursday, the state of New York filed a legal complaint against several of the Sacklers (each is named in the suit), Purdue Pharma, and pharmaceutical distributors, alleging systematic fraud in pushing OxyContin. 

Among America's richest families, the Sacklers are major philanthropists who have donated multimillions to U.S. and U.K. museums over many decades---only recently sparking protests since the Sackler-Oxycontin connection was first widely reported in 2017.

Now Vox reports: "Britain’s National Portrait Gallery last week announced it was cancelling a planned $1.3 million donation from the Sackler Trust. The Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Tate museum in London announced this week they won’t accept any further Sackler donations."

The Guggenheim noted that while it had received $9 million total in donations from the family between 1995 and 2015, no new gifts were planned.

The president and CEO of the Metropolitan Museum of Art released a statement saying they are “conducting a review of our gift acceptance policies.” Adding, “The Sacklers began supporting The Met over 50 years ago – decades before the invention of opioids and the public health crisis that has later ensued. The contemporary Sackler family is large and there are varying relationships among these branches with Purdue Pharma (some have had no relationship with the company for decades),” wrote Daniel Weiss.

Two separate Sackler family foundations released statements saying they would temporarily halt new philanthropic giving in the U.K., according to NPR.

"I am deeply saddened by the addiction crisis in America and support the actions Purdue Pharma is taking to help tackle the situation," reads a statement from Theresa Sackler, chair of the Sackler Trust and widow of late Purdue Pharma co-owner Mortimer Sackler, "whilst still rejecting the false allegations made against the company and several members of the Sackler family."

New York is one of three dozen states to sue opioid manufacturers, litigation that is separate from the bundle of 1,600 opioid-related federal cases being overseen by a United States District Court judge in Ohio, notes the New York Times.

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