Museums around the world that have taken generous contributions from the Sackler family, whose company manufactures OxyContin, are “complicit in the reputation laundering of the Sackler family,” says Stanford University professor Rob Reich, the director of the school’s McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society.
Reich, the author of “Just Giving: Why Philanthropy Is Failing Democracy and How It Can Do Better,” made his comments on the weekly Law&Crime Network program “Brian Ross Investigates”. The program this week focuses on the investigations and controversies surrounding the family and their role in marketing the highly addictive painkiller, which has brought in billions of dollars in profits.
Even before their company began making OxyContin, the Sackler family was well known as generous patrons of the arts. The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim in New York were hit with protests this week by the advocate group P.A.I.N. demanding the museums, because of the tens of thousands of deaths tied to the drug, take the Sackler name off buildings and galleries dedicated to them. The group is led by famed photographer Nan Goldin, who says she was addicted to OxyContin for three years.
The museums can “disavow themselves, they can make a point that they’re going to refuse future funding, not just do it silently but speak out.” Goldin told Chief Investigative Reporter Brian Ross during a demonstration last Saturday night at the Guggenheim.
Other museums that have wings or major rooms named after the Sacklers include the Louvre in Paris, The Victoria and Albert Museum in London, a gallery connected to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and a Sackler museum at Harvard University.
“With all these questions raised about the Sackler family I think leadership of the various museums and cultural institutions need to say something about why, in light of these allegations, they’re willing to nevertheless accept the money,” Professor Reich told Ross.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, in a statement, said the Sackler have been donor for many decades, but that it is “reviewing” its gifting policies. The Guggenheim Museum did not respond to repeated requests for comments.
Goldin says her protest movement is gaining momentum and that her group has been emboldened by new revelations coming from an investigation aimed at the Sackler company, Purdue Pharma and eight members of the family led by the Massachusetts Attorney General, Maura Healey.
“Their strategy was simple,” the attorney general said in announcing her lawsuit last year. “The more drugs they sold, the more money they made and the more people died. We found that Purdue engaged in a multi-billion dollar enterprise to mislead us about their drugs.”
Last month, the attorney revealed an internal company email written by the then-president of Purdue Pharma, Richard Sackler who urged company officials to shift the blame for deaths and abuse to the people addicted to OxyContin. “We have to hammer on the abusers in every way possible,” he wrote. “They’re the culprits and the problem. They are reckless criminals.”
The Sackler family declined repeated requests for a comment.
The Purdue Pharma company, in a statement from its spokesperson, said the attorney general’s complaint is “riddled with demonstrably inaccurate allegations” and seeks to “publicly vilify its executives, employees and director.” The company said OxyContin accounts for less than two percent of total opioid prescriptions.
In 2007, Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty to a felony count that it had misrepresented the dangers of OxyContin, three of its top executives pleaded guilty to misdemeanor counts, and together they paid fines totalling $634 million.