The family behind the pharmaceutical giant Purdue Pharma, which has become an emblem of the opioid crisis that is hitting the United States, announced this Thursday that it had reached an agreement with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to remove its name from seven spaces within the exhibition grounds, including the wing that houses the famous Egyptian temple of Dendur.
“Our families have always been strong supporters of the Met, and we believe this is best for the museum and for the important mission it serves,” descendants of Mortimer Sackler and Raymond Sackler said in a statement. “The first of these donations was made almost 50 years ago, and now we pass the torch to others who want to step forward to support the museum.”
The Sacklers, richer than the Rockefellers, according to Forbes, built much of their wealth thanks to OxyContin, an opiate that thousands of plaintiffs say was marketed with misleading advertising, hiding its addictive potential. In September 2019, Purdue Pharma filed for bankruptcy and the Sacklers announced the transfer of control of the company to an entity created to “benefit the plaintiffs and the American people.”
Thursday’s announcement marks a significant rift between the world’s largest museum and one of its most generous benefactors. In 2019, the New York museum cut off funding from the Sackler family, but it has been relatively slow to remove its name from the galleries. Other museums have rejected Sackler’s money, such as the Serpentine Gallery in London, and some were quick to remove Sackler’s name, including the Louvre in Paris, which was the first to do so. The Guggenheim, the American Museum of Natural History, the Metropolitan Opera, and the Dia Art Foundation are other cultural beneficiaries of the Sacklers in New York.
The first American Sacklers were born to an immigrant couple from Eastern Europe. The couple’s three children grew up in Brooklyn in the 1920s. Arthur, Mortimer and Raymond Sackler studied psychiatry and in the 1950s they bought a small pharmaceutical company, Purdue Frederick, which they later renamed Purdue Pharma. The eldest, Arthur, was a great salesman and marketing pioneer in medicine, as well as one of the leading Asian art collectors of his generation. However, Purdue Pharma’s greatest success came in 1995, years after Arthur’s death. His brothers Mortimer and Raymond launched the OxyContin. The US drug agency (FDA, for its acronym in English) authorized its use as an analgesic to combat pain in cancer patients. Years later, this drug would be considered the precursor to the overdose epidemic that has claimed nearly 500,000 lives in the United States between 1999 and 2020.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.