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OxyContin Outcry Forces Purdue’s Sackler Family to Suspend Arts Donations

The family that controls Purdue Pharma is halting new donations from its trust after a series of rejected donations from high-profile arts institutions last week.

A lawsuit against Purdue naming eight Sackler family members charges the company with aggressively marketing OxyContin despite being aware of its addictive qualities, contributing to the U.S. opioid epidemic. The Sacklers and Purdue deny any wrongdoing.

In a statement on the Sackler Trust website, chair Theresa Sackler said the board wants to protect the recipient institutions from the press attention Purdue Pharma is getting:

I am deeply saddened by the addiction crisis in America and support the actions Purdue Pharma is taking to help tackle the situation, whilst still rejecting the false allegations made against the company and several members of the Sackler family.

The current press attention that these legal cases in the United States is generating has created immense pressure on the scientific, medical, educational and arts institutions here in the UK, large and small, that I am so proud to support. This attention is distracting them from the important work that they do.

The Trustees of the Sackler Trust have taken the difficult decision to temporarily pause all new philanthropic giving, while still honouring existing commitments.

I remain fully committed to all the causes the Sackler Trust supports, but at this moment it is the better course for the Trust to halt all new giving until we can be confident that it will not be a distraction for institutions that are applying for grants.

The Sackler Trust since 2010 has committed £60 million ($79 million) to a range of causes, the BBC reports. This March, Britain’s National Portrait Gallery said it would not accept a long-discussed $1.3 million donation from the trust. The Tate in London also said it would no longer accept money from the Sackler family, and the Guggenheim in New York followed suit.

Purdue Pharma reportedly made more than $4 billion between 2008 and 2016—the years leading up to President Donald Trump’s declaration of the opioid epidemic as a national emergency. More than 100 people die from opioid overdoses every day in the U.S.—more than 37,000 people per year.

Growing criticism from the arts community of accepting money won from the powerful painkiller has included guerrilla protests such as photographer Nan Goldin’s shower of prescription paper slips in the Guggenheim in February.