Jewish anti-opioid activists lead protest against Guggenheim Museum in New York
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Jewish anti-opioid activists lead protest against Guggenheim Museum in New York

Nan Goldin and others drop thousands of fake OxyContin prescriptions at museum, in protest of its affiliation with Sackler family, whose company makes the addictive drug

In this Aug. 17, 2018 photo, family and friends who have lost loved ones to OxyContin and opioid overdoses leave pill bottles in protest outside the headquarters of Purdue Pharma, which is owned by the Sackler family, in Stamford, Conn. (AP/Jessica Hill)
In this Aug. 17, 2018 photo, family and friends who have lost loved ones to OxyContin and opioid overdoses leave pill bottles in protest outside the headquarters of Purdue Pharma, which is owned by the Sackler family, in Stamford, Conn. (AP/Jessica Hill)

Demonstrators on Saturday targeted New York City’s Guggenheim Museum over its affiliation with the Sackler family, which is widely blamed for the opioid crisis in the US and Canada.

The protesters, led by Jewish art photographer and activist Nan Goldin, dropped thousands of fake prescriptions for OxyContin — the prescription painkiller manufactured by the Sacklers’ company that is at the root of the opioid crisis — in the landmark building’s main atrium, The Guardian reported.

The banners — which were meant to symbolize a “blizzard of prescriptions,” as Goldin put it — bore slogans such as “Sacklers lie. People die,” “Shame on Sackler” and “Take down the name.”

The demonstrators also handed out fake bottle pills and shouted chants against the family.

The Sackler family owns Purdue Pharma, the privately held drug company that has made billions from OxyContin, and Sacklers hold most of the seats on the board.

Members of the family have been accused in a case brought by the state of Massachusetts of deceiving patients and doctors about the drug’s risks as deaths mounted. And documents recently released in the case shine new light on former Purdue Pharma president Richard Sackler’s role in the aggressive marketing of the powerful opioid.

As the allegations mount, family members who made their fortunes well before OxyContin even went on the market have sought to distance themselves from their relatives.

At the same time, activists have called on institutions to cut ties with the Sacklers, staging protests at museums that have received millions in donations.

One section of the Guggenheim Museum is called the Sackler Center for Arts Education and was built with funding from the billionaire family.

“I want the Guggenheim and others publicly to disavow themselves from the Sacklers and refuse future funding from them, and I want them to take down the Sackler name from the museums,” Goldin said during the demonstration.

“We’re here to call out the Sackler family. By failing to disavow them now, by refusing to take down their names, the museums are complicit in the opioids crisis,” she added.

Goldin almost died several years ago after being prescribed OxyContin and getting addicted.

Protesters then moved to the nearby Metropolitan Museum, which similarly has a wing named after the Sacklers and paid for by them.

A sign with the Sackler name is displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. (AP/Seth Wenig)

In July, dozens of activists led by Goldin held a protest inside the Arthur M. Sackler Museum at Harvard, scattering pill bottles and holding banners that read “SHAME ON SACKLER.” Similar demonstrations have been held at the Met and the Smithsonian.

One of the most generous and best known of the Sacklers died in 1987, nearly a decade before OxyContin was released. Arthur M. Sackler made his money from medical research, medical advertising and trade publications. His younger brothers, Raymond and Mortimer, bought out his stake after he died.

Arthur Sackler’s name is on a gallery at the Smithsonian, a wing of galleries at London’s Royal Academy of Arts and a museum at Beijing’s Peking University. The Sackler Wing at the Met, which houses the celebrated Temple of Dendur from ancient Egypt, was funded by all three brothers. Richard has likewise donated heavily to various institutions.

The Sackler name is also on Tel Aviv University’s School of Medicine, which was funded by the three brothers. The school offers annual international prizes of $50,000 in the fields of biophysics, chemistry and physics, named for Raymond and Beverly Sackler.

Students seen at the Tel Aviv University on October 14, 2018. (Flash90)

After a federal investigation, Purdue Pharma and three executives — none of them Sacklers — pleaded guilty in 2007 and agreed to pay more than $600 million for misleading the public about the risks of OxyContin. The Stamford, Connecticut, company has also been hit with a multitude of lawsuits over its role in the opioid crisis that killed more than 47,000 people in 2017 alone.

Arthur’s nephew, Richard Sackler, who became president of Purdue Pharma in 1999 and remains on the board, is at the center of the litigation. He and other current and former executives have been accused of hiding the dangers of the drug from doctors and patients, encouraging physicians to prescribe more of the highest doses and minimizing the abuse crisis as it was unfolding.

At the launch party for OxyContin in 1996, Richard Sackler boasted the drug would bring a “blizzard of prescriptions that will bury the competition,” the documents say. Years later, they say, he sought to shift blame onto drug users themselves, recommending the company “hammer on the abusers in every way possible.”

Arthur Sackler’s widow and children insist that they never financially benefited from the sale of OxyContin, but activists have made no distinction between Arthur and his relatives.

AP contributed to this report.

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