Dozens protest at NYC museum over donor's ties to opioid crisis

ASSOCIATED PRESS
NEW YORK
Published 12.02.2019 01:00 Modified 12.02.2019 01:00

Activists protesting a prominent donor family's link to the opioid crisis unfurled banners and scattered pill bottles inside New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art on Saturday.

The New York Times reports that the protest started just after 4 p.m. Saturday inside the museum's Sackler Wing.

The wing is named after brothers Arthur, Mortimer and Raymond Sackler, who donated $3.5 million for the wing in the 1970s.

Mortimer and Raymond Sackler also owned Purdue Pharma, the company that developed OxyContin, a widely prescribed and widely abused painkiller.

Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty in 2007 to misleading the public about OxyContin's risk of addiction and agreed to pay $600 million in fines and other payments.

The protest was led by photographer Nan Goldin, whose work has been exhibited at many museums including the Met.

Goldin started an anti-opioid group called Prescription Addiction Intervention Now, or PAIN, after being addicted to OxyContin from 2014 to 2017.

She shouted, "We are artists, activists, addicts. We are fed up."

The protesters threw pill bottles with labels that read "OxyContin" and "prescribed to you by the Sacklers" into the wing's reflecting pool.

A spokesman for the museum declined to comment, and a spokeswoman for the Sackler family and a Purdue spokesman did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

Officials at Purdue have previously said they would welcome a discussion with Goldin. The company has also said it has taken steps to limit the abuse of opioids, such as paying for prescription-drug monitoring programs.

Arthur, Mortimer and Raymond Sackler have all died, but descendants of Mortimer and Raymond Sackler currently are principal owners of Purdue Pharma, which continues to sell opioids.

Foundations run by members of the Sackler family have given tens of millions of dollars to museums including the Guggenheim in New York and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

The protesters called for cultural institutions to reject money from the family.

The family behind OxyContin raked in billions of dollars as it pushed to keep patients on the powerful painkiller longer despite evidence that the drug was helping to fuel the nation's deadly opioid crisis, public court documents filed by Massachusetts authorities recently showed.

While aggressively marketing OxyContin, the Sackler family also sought to profit off the drug abuse crisis its company helped create by exploring selling drugs used to treat addiction and reverse overdoses, state lawyers said in their lawsuit against Purdue Pharma.

Health officials say nearly 48,000 overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2017 involved some type of opioid, including illicit drugs.

The lawsuit, filed in state court, also details tactics the state says Purdue and the Sacklers used to keep patients on the drugs longer and get more patients taking higher doses — even as that made them more prone to addiction. Meanwhile, the Sacklers paid themselves more than $4 billion from 2007 through last year, according to the lawsuit.

Massachusetts lawyers say while the company was secretly considering ways to profit off trying to cure addictions, it was while publicly deflecting blame for the crisis. For instance, Richard Sackler said in an email at one point that the company had to "have to hammer on the abusers," calling them "the problem" and "reckless criminals."

The wealthy Sackler family's name is emblazoned on the walls at some of the world's great museums and universities.

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter