The Sackler name is emblazoned on the walls at some of the world’s great museums and universities, including the Smithsonian, the Guggenheim and Harvard. But now the family’s ties to OxyContin and the painkiller’s role in the deadly opioid crisis are bringing the Sacklers a new and unwanted kind of attention and complicating their philanthropic legacy. The Sackler family owns Purdue Pharma, the privately held drug company that has made billions from OxyContin, and Sacklers hold most of the seats on the board.
Members of the family have been accused in a case brought by the state of Massachusetts of deceiving patients and doctors about the drug’s risks as deaths mounted. And documents recently released in the case shine new light on former Purdue Pharma President Richard Sackler’s role in the aggressive marketing of the powerful opioid. As the allegations mount, family members who made their fortunes well before OxyContin even went on the market have sought to distance themselves from their relatives. 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. “The Sackler name is becoming synonymous with the opioid epidemic, and it is damning for these institutions to have their name up,” said Nan Goldin, a photographer whose works have been displayed at Harvard’s Arthur M. Sackler Museum and at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, which has a Sackler Wing.