The misuse of domestic prescription painkillers, in addition to outlawed opioids, such as heroin from Mexico and fentanyl from China, has led to a national public health emergency in the United States as of October 2017, when it was declared by President Trump.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 130 Americans die each day from an opioid overdose. Additionally, a 2017 drug surveillance report by the CDC found that despite knowing the risks of these drugs, retail pharmacies dispensed nearly 220 million prescriptions for opioids in 2016.
In 1996, Purdue Pharma, a pharmaceutical company owned by the Sackler family, notoriously urged doctors in the U.S. to prescribe high-grade OxyContin to their pain suffering patients.
This shameless self-promotion by the Sackler family arguably engineered the national opioid epidemic crisis in the process.
In 2007, Purdue Pharma and members of the Sackler family pled guilty to false marketing charges and misleading medical professionals and the public about the addictive potential of OxyContin.
Despite this, the Sackler name has remained a staple display on some of the world’s most prestigious art galleries and institutions.
The Sackler Wing of Oriental Antiquities at The Louvre in Paris and Yale’s Raymond and Beverly Sackler Institute for Biological, Physical and Engineering Sciences are two of the major institutions that are in the crosshairs of protesters for accepting donations and gifts from the billionaire family as the opioid epidemic continues to destroy lives.
While Purdue Pharma and the Sacklers continue to insist they didn’t cause the opioid crisis and deny the claims directed at them by lawsuits, comments such as this are far and few between, only appearing as a result from leaks from websites such as ProPublica.
During a “Last Week Tonight” episode on the opioid epidemic, John Oliver said after using a clip of news anchor quoting Sackler, “The problem is, we have to use clips like that because there are no clips of Richard Sackler. He never does interviews.”
It’s time the public demands accountability from the Sackler family and Purdue Pharma. They can do this by demanding that the media no longer allow them any distance from the opioid epidemic they appear to have played a central part in.
While the long time argument of many art institutions has been to say that it’s out of their hands due to legal and contractual obligations, I believe that it’s time for people to hold the Sackler family accountable simply for their poor ethics in handling this situation.
In a new lawsuit announced in March by the New York Attorney General against opioid manufacturers, investigators found that leadership from the Sackler family urged Purdue Pharma to publicly blame those who were a part of the evidence that their drugs were causing widespread addiction.
“We have to hammer on abusers in every way possible,” said Richard Sackler, the Purdue Pharma president in 2001. “They are the culprits and the problem. They are reckless criminals.”
By shifting the blame onto those who already suffer from negative health and behavioral impacts that OxyContin entails adds salt to the wound, the Sackler family and Purdue Pharma continue to evade responsibility.
Increased pressure by the media and the press, as well as donors continuing to drop the Sackler family, will force Purdue Pharma to finally acknowledge the role they played in the ongoing opioid epidemic.