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Sackler Family Hears Bad News All Week

Lawsuit targets family who made a fortune on OxyContin as museums say 'no thanks'
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 22, 2019 1:31 PM CDT

(Newser) – From the outside, it appears that life has been good—and fabulously profitable—for the Sackler family since the launch of OxyContin in 1995. The Sacklers, whose Purdue Pharma produces the drug, have made their philanthropic mark with well-publicized, large donations to universities and art galleries even as the opioid crisis has deepened. This week, though, the headlines have turned less flattering, including:

  • A lawsuit. More than 500 cities, counties, and Native American tribes say in a new suit that members of the Sackler family helped cause "the worst drug crisis in American history." The family is accused of knowingly breaking laws to build profits, the Guardian reports, and, specifically, of misleading advertising and deceiving doctors and patients about the risks of OxyContin.
  • Scathing line: There have been other filings, many of which targeted companies; this one targets Sacklers by name. "Eight people in a single family made the choices that caused much of the opioid epidemic," the suit says. It was filed in the southern district of New York. The family and Purdue deny the allegations.

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  • Rejections: Leading British museums are closing their doors to the Sacklers. The Tate museums will no longer accept their contributions, and the National Portrait Gallery decided not to accept a $1.3 million donation after all. The Tate said it wouldn't remove the family name from past donations, per the Guardian, but doesn't "think it right to seek or accept" any more. The Sackler Trust said that because of the allegations, the planned donation could "deflect the National Portrait Gallery from its important work." The Portrait Gallery agreed, per NPR. Nan Goldin, a US art photographer who has battled OxyContin addiction, had said she'd block a retrospective of her work planned for the gallery.
  • The debate. An opinion piece in the Washington Post asks why more institutions don't turn down the Sacklers. Yale is among the recipients who say it's true that there's an opioid crisis, but it's also true that the family's money—an estimated $4 billion of which has come from OxyContin—has done good. Leaving the Sackler name on plaques in museums could be the best option, Benjamin Soskis writes. The issue provides an opportunity to rethink the way philanthropy is thought of and handled, he says.
(Richard Sackler won a patent for a drug to counter opioid addiction.)

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