As the United States continues to struggle to find viable solutions to the ever growing opioid crisis that has gripped the nation, we collectively mourn those hundreds of thousands whose lives were lost due to this ruthless malady.
By 2017, the opioid epidemic had left some 450,000 people dead from overdoses, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About half of those deaths are estimated to be from prescription drugs, including OxyContin — the pain reliever made by the U.S. pharmaceutical giant owned by the Sacklers, Purdue Pharma.
While it is true that the nation began witnessing significantly increased numbers in terms of those addicted to painkillers, the real maelstrom impacted the country at the emergence of the coronavirus early last year.
Over the last few years, glaring headlines about the true nature of the pharmaceutical industry and its major players have dominated the airwaves. As the Jewish Voice previously reported on a number of occasions, the Sackler family who owns the Purdue Pharmaceutical company was at the epicenter of the insidious controversy that erupted.
Back in March of 2019, the Jewish Voice reported that New York Attorney General Letitia James initiated a lawsuit against the now notorious Sackler family and Purdue Pharmaceutical as well as six national prescription drug distributors. The lawsuit alleged that through years of false and thoroughly deceptive marketing, and by thumbing their noses at their moral and legal responsibilities to prevent the unlawful dispersion of controlled substances, these six national prescription opioid manufacturers, the Sackler Family, and four national prescription drug distributors carry a major onus on themselves for creating the opioid epidemic that has hit the state of New York in the form of serious addiction problems, overdose deaths, and familial suffering.
This lawsuit was the first to allege that prescription drug distributors failed to exercise their due diligence in detecting and reporting diversion of opioids through poorly designed, poorly resourced, and poorly executed (and highly suspicious) order monitoring programs. AG James at the time said that this case most definitely has many legs to stand on as the facts that bear it out are plenteous.
Also in early 2019, the Jewish Voice reported that more drama continued to chase the Sackler family following revelations that suggest the family was cognizant of the dangers of opioids yet pushed them anyway through Purdue Pharma.
Demonstrations were held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan as well as at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum on Fifth Avenue’s museum mile. Both museums have financial ties to the Sackler family that peddled a popular opioid known as OxyContin, Huffington Post reported.
Like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim has an area named after the Sackler family that is called the Sackler Center for Arts Education. The protestors did a “die-in” that was meant to illustrate the victims who were lost to the greed of the Sacklers and the evil opioids they pushed. It focused on the countless mothers, brothers, sisters, and friends who were turned into addicts and thusly, were heralded into an early death. People dropped leaflets that looked like prescription pads, to draw attention to the “blizzard of prescriptions that will bury the competition,” according to court filings, in which the Sacklers appeared giddy at the thought of profiting off of people’s destructive and deadly addictions, at the same time that they publicly said opioids were safe.
In May of 2019, it was reported that in addition to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim, other recipients of the Sackler fortune such as Columbia University and the American Museum of Natural History stopped accepting donations from drug pushing family.
In September of 2019, it was reported that Purdue Pharma reached a deal for up to $12 billion to settle the thousands of lawsuits it faced for the role its notorious painkiller OxyContin played in fueling the opioid epidemic.
Purdue reached the agreement with 23 state governments and 2,000 cities and counties that were trying to hold the company accountable for what many saw as a case of putting greed before people’s lives, as was reported in the NY Post. Under the settlement, Purdue was to have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and dissolve, while the Sackler family will relinquish control of the company.
In October of 2020, the AP reported that Purdue Pharma pled guilty to federal criminal charges as part of a settlement of more than $8 billion, according to the Justice Department.
The deal does not release any of the company’s executives or owners — members of the wealthy Sackler family from criminal liability, and a criminal investigation is ongoing, as was reported by the AP. Family members said they acted “ethically and lawfully,” but some state attorneys general said the agreement fails to hold the Sacklers accountable. The company pled guilty to three counts, including conspiracy to defraud the United States and violating federal anti-kickback laws.
AP reported that the settlement is the highest-profile display yet of the federal government seeking to hold a major drugmaker responsible for an opioid addiction and overdose crisis linked to more than 470,000 deaths in the country since 2000.
While there are conflicting views of whether it’s enough, it’s clear the Sacklers’ reputation has taken a hit. Until recently, the Sackler name was on museum galleries and educational programs around the world because of gifts from family members. But under pressure from activists, institutions from the Louvre in Paris to Tufts University in Massachusetts have dissociated themselves from the family in the last few years, according to the AP report. The Sackler name has also appeared on the Smithsonian Institution in Washington and on the campuses of Harvard, Princeton, Cornell, Yale as well as Beijing’s Peking University.
Moreover, in October of 2020 it was reported that the New York University’s Langone Medical Center had intentions of removing the Sackler name from its Graduate Biomedical Institute, following pressure from students and Artist-Led Group, P.A.I.N. In March of this year, it was reported that London’s Serpentine Galleries is also disassociating with the Sackler family.
Thus far, one of the only institutions of higher learning that was a recipient of the Sackler family largesse has not spoken out against the Sacklers nor have they removed their name from their buildings and that has been Tel Aviv University.
In a March 2019 report on the Sacklers and their relationship with Tel Aviv University’s medical school, Haaretz reporter Dina Kraft asked TAU if they would remove the Sackler family name from its buildings, following other institutions who received Sackler money. TAU declined to provide a response to her question. The same Haaretz report indicated that the Physicians for Human Rights in Israel said it had sent a letter to the dean of the Sackler School of Medicine requesting that the family’s name be removed.
In a statement, the organization said it had done so because of “the inherent, acute clash between the sense of the medical calling that the faculty strives to imbue in its students, seeking to highlight the humanistic and ethical aspects of practicing medicine, and the conduct of members of the Sackler family as it emerges from publications and lawsuits filed against them in different American states,” as was reported by Haaretz.
Tel Aviv University’s Sackler School is the only medical school with the family name on it, as was reported by Haaretz.
Haaretz also reported that Tel Aviv University is also home to the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Faculty of Exact Sciences, the Sackler Cellular & Molecular Imaging Center, and the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Institute of Biophysics. According to university publications, these are just some of more than 30 Sackler-supported units on campus.
“Practically every step you take on campus will lead you to a Sackler-supported unit …. Sackler is nothing short of a brand name at Tel Aviv University,” Tel Aviv University President Joseph Klafter said at a 2013 celebration for Raymond and Beverly Sackler at the UN Security Council chamber, where a prize was presented to the couple in the name of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by Israel’s UN ambassador, as was reported by Haaretz.
In recent years, the Sacklers have also helped establish cooperative research projects, funding, for example, the Tel Aviv University-Harvard Astronomy Program and the Tel Aviv University-UC Berkeley Fund in the Physical, Biomedical and Engineering Sciences.
A consensus has been brewing for quite a while now that for reasons of moral and ethical rectitude, Tel Aviv University is incumbent to offer a total dissociation from the Sackler family by removing their name from their buildings and instituting policy that will prevent them from accepting any more donations in the future.
Said one TAU medical school student who chose to remain anonymous, “Although the Sacklers have helped Tel Aviv University in immeasurable ways, no matter how you cut it, this school is doing a tremendous disservice to their students and to the communities it serves by refusing to acknowledge the crimes that the Sacklers committed. It would behoove Tel Aviv University to immediately remove the Sackler name from their buildings and to condemn them in the strongest of terms.”
After repeated attempts by the Jewish Voice over the course of several months to contact Tel Aviv University (both at their Tel Aviv office and their New York City offices) for comment on this article, none has been received.