Opioid Lawsuits Pile Up Against Family Behind Purdue Pharma

By Bryan Le 04/01/19

A string of lawsuits seeks to hold members of the Sackler family, who own Purdue Pharma, responsible for the opioid crisis.

Image: 
yellow oxycodone bottle and tablets on counting tray which have high abuse potential but are a great pain reliever
Advocates demand accountability from the people they accuse of knowingly marketing dangerous medicine. Pureradiancephoto | Dreamstime.com

The Sackler family is withdrawing from the public sphere, including ending their philanthropic initiatives, as legal pressure to hold them responsible for the opioid crisis piles on.

Their charity arm, the Sackler Trust, has historically donated millions to the arts and sciences, but announced it was ceasing all such activity now that they’re receiving bad press and “false allegations” are being made against them.

“The current press attention that these legal cases in the United States is generating has created immense pressure on the scientific, medical, educational and arts institutions here in the UK, large and small, that I am so proud to support. This attention is distracting them from the important work that they do,” said Sackler Trust chairwoman Theresa Sackler. “The Trustees of the Sackler Trust have taken the difficult decision to temporarily pause all new philanthropic giving, while still honoring existing commitments. I remain fully committed to all the causes the Sackler Trust supports, but at this moment it is the better course for the Trust to halt all new giving until we can be confident that it will not be a distraction for institutions that are applying for grants.”

Purdue Pharma is the manufacturer of the opioid painkiller OxyContin, a drug for which they stand accused of downplaying the negative effects of while encouraging doctors to prescribe as much as possible in the name of profit.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), prescription opioids caused about 218,000 American deaths between 1999 and 2017. A recent study found that people are now more likely die from an opioid overdose than in a car accident. The Sacklers say they recognize that action needs to be taken.

“We recognize that more needs to be done and that’s why we launched a long-term initiative that continues to build as we pursue a range of solutions that we believe will have a meaningful impact,” wrote Theresa Sackler.

The Sacklers have suspended a $1.3 million grant to the United Kingdom’s National Portrait Gallery as to “avoid being a distraction.” Some other organizations, like the Tate art gallery, the Guggenheim, and the hedge fund Hildene Capital Management, have cut ties to the Sacklers preemptively.

“The weight on my conscience led me to terminate the relationship,” said hedge fund manager Brett Jefferson.

Some have called for removing the Sackler name from buildings they funded, including Harvard University’s Arthur M. Sackler Museum and the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, which were funded by the Sacklers long before the invention of OxyContin. Spokespeople for both museums have said they have no plans to remove the Sackler name from their buildings.

“Museums (are) white washing the reputation of a family that is directly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people… But the tide is turning against them,” said L.A. Kauffman of the protest group Sackler PAIN.

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Bryan Le grew up in the 90's, so the Internet is practically his third parent. This combined with a love for journalism led him to The Fix. When he isn't fulfilling his duties as Editorial Coordinator, he's obsessing over fancy keyboards he can't justify buying. Find Bryan on LinkedIn or Twitter

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