Sackler Donations Are "Blood Money," Recovery Advocate Says

By The Fix staff 03/23/18

Philanthropic donations are under scrutiny for potential ties to the opioid crisis.

close-up of hundred dollar bill with blood spatter

Has the opioid crisis tainted the Sackler name?

Prominent recovery advocates say it has—which is why they are protesting ongoing philanthropy from foundations run by the families of Raymond and Mortimer Sackler.

Their billion-dollar empire was built largely on sales of OxyContin via Purdue Pharma, the American branch of the family's global pharmaceutical empire.

Recovery advocate Ryan Hampton says that any institution that accepts these donations is accepting “blood money.”

“The only appropriate place for Sackler family money or Purdue corporation funds is in a massive settlement fund controlled by the U.S. courts to treat those still suffering with the addiction caused by their opioids,” Hampton told The Guardian. “That money should be used to right the wrongs in a way that is transparent. Donations to arts organizations are reputation laundering, and a distraction from the wreckage of this family’s greed.”

In the U.S., the Sackler name appears in The Guggenheim, the American Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian galleries, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to name a few.

In early March, artist and photographer Nan Goldin staged a protest in the Sackler Wing of the Met, littering the space with pill bottles to bring attention to the donors’ role in fueling the American opioid crisis.

People like Goldin and Hampton want institutions like the Met to reject the donations, and for Purdue Pharma to use profits to fund treatment for substance use disorder.

Across the pond, The Guardian reported that the National Portrait Gallery in London is currently reviewing a £1 million Sackler pledge, based on the gallery’s ethical fundraising policy and charitable objectives.

Records obtained by the Guardian show that other institutions, like the Courtauld Institute of Art and the University of Glasgow, are also set to receive money from this branch of the Sackler family this year. They have also donated to the Victoria and Albert Museum, The Tate, and the Louvre in Paris.

Purdue Pharma is 100% owned by the descendants of Raymond and Mortimer Sackler. According to Esquire, older brother Arthur Sackler's side of the family split off decades ago and are "mere multi-millionaires." 

The company has been under intense scrutiny for its role in aggressively marketing OxyContin while downplaying the painkiller’s addiction risks. At least 14 states have filed lawsuits against Purdue based on these claims, with many more cities and counties suing the company as well.

In February, Purdue agreed to cut down on marketing OxyContin, while it maintained its innocence.

It was a small victory for Americans who feel wronged by the drug company’s apparent greed. But Purdue hasn’t given up on opioids.

While the market for OxyContin has declined in the U.S., the company has set its sights abroad. According to the New Yorker, Purdue Pharma “has only increased its efforts abroad, and is now pushing [OxyContin], through a Purdue-related company called Mundipharma, into Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article was unclear about the ownership of Purdue Pharma, the makers of OxyContin. Purdue Pharma is owned by the descendants of Raymond and Mortimer Sackler and not by the descendants of Arthur M. Sackler. Arthur M. Sackler, his widow and heirs, have never financially benefited from the sale of OxyContin.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

The Fix staff consists of the editor-in-chief and publisher, a senior editor, an associate editor, an editorial coordinator, and several contributing editors and writers. Articles in Professional Voices, Ask an Expert, and similar sections are written by doctors, psychologists, clinicians, professors and other experts from universities, hospitals, government agencies and elsewhere. For contact and other info, please visit our About Us page.