The Sackler name is emblazoned on the walls at some of the world’s great museums, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, which has become the latest institution to sever ties over the family’s link to the opioid crisis.
“The museum takes a position of gratitude and respect to those who support us, but on occasion, we feel it’s necessary to step away from gifts that are not in the public interest, or in our institution’s interest,” said Daniel H. Weiss, the president of the Met, The New York Times reported. “That is what we’re doing here.”
The Sackler family’s support began decades before the opioid crisis.
The family’s ties to OxyContin, and the painkiller’s role in the deadly opioid crisis, have been bringing the Sacklers a new and unwanted kind of attention and complicating their philanthropic legacy.
The Sackler family owns Purdue Pharma, a privately held drug company that has made billions from OxyContin, and Sacklers hold most of the seats on the board.
After a federal investigation, Purdue Pharma and three executives — none of them Sacklers — pleaded guilty in 2007 and agreed to pay more than $600 million for misleading the public about the risks of OxyContin.
The Stamford, Ct., business has also been hit with a multitude of lawsuits over its role in the opioid crisis, which claimed the lives of more than 47,000 people in 2017 alone.
As allegations mount, family members who made their fortunes well before OxyContin even went on the market have sought to distance themselves from their kin.
At the same time, activists have called on institutions to cut ties with the Sacklers, staging protests at museums that have received millions in donations.
Lost in the outrage: One of the most generous and best known of the Sacklers died in 1987, nearly a decade before OxyContin was released. Arthur M. Sackler made his money from medical research, medical advertising and trade publications. His younger brothers, Raymond and Mortimer, bought out his stake after he died.
Arthur Sackler’s name 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 Sackler Wing at the Met, which houses the celebrated Temple of Dendur from ancient Egypt, was funded by all three brothers. Richard has likewise donated heavily to various institutions.
Arthur Sackler’s widow and children insist that they never financially benefited from the sale of OxyContin.
Arthur’s nephew, Richard Sackler, who became president of Purdue Pharma in 1999 and remains on the board, is at the center of litigation. He and other current and former executives have been accused of hiding the dangers of the drug from doctors and patients, encouraging physicians to prescribe more of the highest doses and minimizing the abuse as it escalated.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.