Opioid Crisis Activists "Die In" At Guggenheim Over Sackler Family Ties

By Kelly Burch 02/13/19
Afterward, protesters walked two blocks to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which has a wing named after the Sackler family.
activists protesting at the Guggenheim
Photo via YouTube

Protesters dropped fake prescriptions from balconies, handed out empty pill bottles and laid down as if they were dead at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City to call attention to the opioid epidemic, and call for the museum and others like it to stop acknowledging the billionaire philanthropists of the Sackler family, members of which founded the company that would become Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin. 

“I want the Guggenheim and others publicly to disavow themselves from the Sacklers and refuse future funding from them, and I want them to take down the Sackler name from the museums,” Nan Goldin, who organized the protest, told The Guardian.

Goldin, a photographer whose art is displayed in the Guggenheim, has been an outspoken critic of the Sackler family. The artist became addicted to OxyContin after an operation, then began using heroin and fentanyl. She finally got help after overdosing on fentanyl. 

The Sackler family has its name on the Guggenheim and other museums and institutes for the arts. Since the opioid epidemic—and Purdue’s role in fueling said epidemic—have gained attention, some have called on these institutions to distance themselves from the family.

“We’re here to call out the Sackler family. By failing to disavow them now, by refusing to take down their names, the museums are complicit in the opioids crisis,” said Goldin.

Dropping fake prescriptions from the balconies of the Guggenheim was meant to call attention to comments made by one member of the Sackler family, claiming that the launch of OxyContin would be “followed by a blizzard of prescriptions that will bury the competition,” said Goldin. 

According to The New Yorker, the fake scripts were for 80 milligrams of OxyContin to be taken 24 times a day. They also contained a quote: “If OxyContin is uncontrolled, it is highly likely that it will eventually be abused... How substantially would it improve our sales?” The words were pulled from court filings in Massachusetts, where Purdue is being sued for its aggressive marketing of OxyContin despite knowing the risks. 

After the Guggenheim, protesters walked two blocks to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which has a wing named after the Sackler family. 

Visitors to the Guggenheim were initially confused, but a few who spoke to The Guardian said that the protest resonated with them. 

“It reminded me of stories of protesters laying down in Wall Street during the Aids epidemic. These institutions all have dirty hands,” said Alex Viteri.

Another man was visiting from New Hampshire, one of the states hit hardest by the opioid epidemic. The man said that his brother-in-law became hooked on opioids after being prescribed OxyContin. Like many, the brother-in-law progressed to illicit opioids and died of a drug overdose. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.