Dirty Money in Art & Big Pharma Favorite 



Jul 20 2018


New York, London, Paris

Between 1995 and 2017 the highly addictive painkiller OxyContin brought in $35 billion USD in revenue for Purdue Pharma, most of which went directly into the hands of the Sackler family. The Sackler family, a dynasty of philanthropists have given large sums of money (gained through income arising from the pain, addictions, and deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans); to popular cultural institutions including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History, the Guggenheim, Tate Gallery, the Louvre, and many, many more. Understandably, much of the artistic world was outraged to hear that these institutions were built upon the hollowing out of so many families and towns throughout America, prompting legendary photographer Nan Goldin into action. After founding P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) Goldin began her “die-in” demonstrations at museums around the world that had accepted the Sackler family’s financial contributions. The work of Goldin and P.A.I.N. helped to get the Sackler family name removed from the Louvre, and they continue their work in assisting families and victims of the opioid crisis to file a Proof of Claim with the US Bankruptcy Court against the drug manufacturer Purdue Pharma.

From The Guardian:

The artist Nan Goldin and around 100 fellow demonstrators threw pill bottles into the moat surrounding an ancient Egyptian temple at the Metropolitan Museum in New York on Saturday, to protest sponsorship by the family that owns one of the largest makers of opioids.

The pill bottles had been labeled by the protesters to say “prescribed to you by the Sackler Family”. The Sackler family wholly owns Purdue Pharma, which makes the prescription painkiller OxyContin. In 1974, the family paid for the Sackler Wing at the Met, in which the 2,000-year-old Temple of Dendur stands.

Goldin, who recently recovered from a near-fatal addiction to OxyContin, led the protest. “Shame!” she shouted. “As artists and activists we demand funding for treatment: 150 people will die today, 10 while we are standing here, from drug overdoses.”
Security guards allowed the protesters to stage a die-in as puzzled tourists looked on.

“Disperse, please,” guards called. One, who would not give his name, told the Guardian he agreed with the action.

“Sacklers lie, people die,” Goldin chanted.

She said: “We want the Sacklers to put their money into rehab not museums.”

One protester, Bob Alexander, a city guide for tourists, said he had once had an opioid problem.

“The Sackler family has made a lot of money out of OxyContin and they didn’t tell people how addictive it is,” he said. “Putting profits into cultural philanthropy is hypocritical.”

Hundreds of pill bottles were thrown into the moat. One guard ripped down a banner that read: “Fund rehab.” After about 20 minutes, Goldin led the protesters out of the museum peacefully.

Goldin planned the action as a protest against museums, galleries and academic institutions in the US, UK and elsewhere which take donations from the Sackler family. The Sacklers donated $3.4m to the Met, a gift that was used to build a home for the Temple of Dendur, one of the institution’s most popular draws.

Goldin revealed recently that she developed a dependency on opioids after being prescribed OxyContin while recovering from wrist surgery in Berlin in 2014.

A former heroin addict, she said she became addicted to the powerful painkillers “overnight”. When she could not get the pills by prescription, she began buying them from street dealers. That led her to take heroin and fentanyl when she could not get pills and to almost suffer a fatal overdose.

Speaking to the Guardian in an exclusive interview in January, Goldin said she did not know how the Sackler heirs descended from the late Mortimer and Raymond Sackler, and according to Forbes worth at least $13bn collectively, could “live with themselves”.

Goldin wants Sackler family members to put money into rehabilitation centers rather than art and academic philanthropy. She also wants museums to stop taking donations from the Sackler family and to stand with her campaign to expose pharmaceutical companies that made fortunes from opioids.

Such companies, collectively known as big pharma, are facing hundreds of lawsuits brought by US cities, counties and states. OxyContin is regarded as the “ground zero” of the opioid crisis because in 1996 it was released as the first of a new breed of slow-release, morphine-type prescription pills.

Developed to treat acute post-surgical pain and terminal cancer patients, such pills were marketed as a treatment for chronic pain. It emerged, however, that they could be addictive even as prescribed.

Purdue Pharma is the subject of lawsuits. None of the Sacklers are personally being sued. In 2007 Purdue pleaded guilty to federal charges that it misled regulators, doctors and patients about OxyContin’s risk of addiction and abuse. Sackler family members were not charged.

In a response to an essay by Goldin in ArtForum magazine this year, heir Elizabeth A Sackler said she and her children had not profited from OxyContin and said Purdue Pharma’s role in the opioid crisis was “morally abhorrent”. Jillian Sackler, the widow of Arthur Sackler, the oldest of the three brothers who developed Purdue Pharma, told the Guardian in February her husband died before OxyContin was invented and she has not profited from opioids.

In an email to the Guardian on Saturday night, Purdue spokesman Bob Josephson said the company was “deeply troubled by the prescription and illicit opioid abuse crisis, and we are dedicated to being part of the solution”.

He added that Purdue had “led industry efforts to combat prescription drug abuse”.

Opioids have killed more than 200,000 Americans and are blamed for the deaths of more than 100 more a day. The Centers for Disease Control reported this week that overdoses were up by 30%. Many of the 2 million or more Americans estimated to be dependent have turned to street drugs to offset the threat of withdrawal.

Goldin said she would next week celebrate a year since quitting opioids and going into rehab. “Every day can be a struggle,” she said. “This action is to wake up the Sacklers and to make a comment on museums accepting donations from these people and trying to rationalize it.”

Goldin said she wanted a huge expansion of treatment and more widespread availability of overdose antidote drugs, administered by emergency services.

Posted by alexanasiedlak on

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How does this project help?

Timeframe For change

The long term goal would be to either stop/alleviate the opioid crisis, to get the Sackler family's name out museums, to get the Sackler family to use the money they made profiting off the crisis to make/create rehab centers for those dealing with addiction.


The Sackler's family name was removed from many of the museums where the protests occurred (the Louvre, for example), but I'm not sure about other museums like the Met, the Tate in London, the Guggenheim, etc. There's no obvious move by the Sackler family to move money into rehab centers, since that would admitting to wrong-doing. However, the protest and die-in strategy used by the team was impactful, especially when all you see if bright orange pill bottles in an otherwise pristinely well-kept beautified museum.