Rhodes Pharma Spoon deployment in Coventry, Rhode Island on February 7 (image courtesy the Opioid Spoon Project)

Yesterday, February 7, artist Domenic Esposito dropped off a massive, unexpected addition to the entrance of Rhodes Pharma. The generic opioid manufacturer is linked to the infamous Sackler family, founders of multi-billion dollar drug company Purdue Pharma and notorious art philanthropists.

On September 9 of last year, the Financial Times revealed that the Sackler family owns Rhodes Pharma, a lesser-known drug company in Rhode Island that produces generic opioids like oxycodone, morphine, and hydrocodone. Rhodes Pharma was established in 2007, just four months after Purdue pleaded guilty to criminal charges that it had mismarketed OxyContin. Between the two companies, the Sacklers are responsible for manufacturing 6% of opioid prescriptions nationwide and are the seventh-largest opioid makers by market share.

Esposito’s passion for drug advocacy is rooted in a painful experience with a brother suffering from drug addiction — a reality shared by millions of American families. In a personal essay about his motivations, Esposito calls the opioid spoon “dark and macabre symbol of hopelessness.” 

“The burnt spoon sculpture (Purdue) embodies the pain I have felt dealing with substance use disorder in my family,” he continues. “The road to recovery is long, tedious and at times full of despair; and like so many families in a similar position it is a road not well understood. Many people do not even realize that opioid addiction is a disease.”

The burnt spoons are crafted from heavy gauge steel with burnt metal patina, weighing 800 pounds and spanning 10.5 feet long, four feet wide, and four feet tall.

(photo by Joshua Berman)

Esposito calls art a “great way” to translate the message of the opioid crisis’s impact. “We’re so accustomed now to grab onto memes and simple visuals, and it creates this response, this emotion,” he told Hyperallergic in a phone interview.

Esposito carries out these “Opioid Spoon Deployments” as part of a larger non-for-profit organization, The Opioid Spoon Project, which is dedicated to rectifying irresponsible drug prescription practices that often lead to the use of non-prescription drugs. (80% of heroin users were first prescription opioid usersaccording to the National Institute of Drug Abuse.) The project says its goal is exposing “every aspect of how the opioid epidemic was a well thought out business plan by those who sought to seek profit” — a criticism often aimed at the Sackler family, whose financial ties span museums across the United States and Europe.

However, the artist told Hyperallergic that this is “not just a campaign to expose the Sacklers.” He explains, “We’re going to continue to expose the web of influence that Big Pharma has had on this society, and expose the truth.”

“We can’t trust Big Pharma to do the right thing,” Esposito continues. “We really need to set an example.”

This weekend, on Saturday, February 8, drug advocacy group Sackler PAIN — spearheaded by renowned photographer Nan Goldin — will gather at the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Sackler PAIN has, since 2017, actively opposed the Sackler family’s wide-ranging financial stakes in the arts.

Jasmine Weber is an artist, writer, and former news editor at Hyperallergic. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

11 replies on “Artist Drops Massive Opioid Spoon at Entrance of Another Sackler-Owned Drug Manufacturer”

  1. Excellent work by Mr. Esposito and the Opioid Spoon Project. It would be great to see the PAIN group/Nan Goldin unite with Decolonize This Place and W.A.G.E. and work toward the goal of getting rid of the overall corruption in the Museums. At least work on exposing more corrupt Board members and donors, connecting the dots and making more artists and the general public aware of these problems and that this is what the oligarchs’ playground looks like. It can’t be allowed to keep going on totally unchecked. And unpunished. And artists/art getting used as pawns in the process. If the Sacklers, and Kanders at the Whitney, were in political office they would be removed. But in the Art World, they can launder their dirty money, and enrich themselves, no problem.

  2. As any recovering addict knows, part of the road to rehabilitation is to accept responsibility for your own weakness. Spooning responsibility off of some family you don’t even know sounds both counterproductive and irresponsible to the point of criminal libel. Deal with your addiction!

    1. The Sackler family is addicted to the money they get from opiates. Maybe they should deal with their addiction.

      1. I guess you know them so they’re your problem, not ours, at least I hope you know them, and aren’t just some anti-semitic hater or some other weirdo. The real problem is our personal addictions, which we need to take responsibility for. Blaming others is both counterproductive to our own cure, and is cowardly. P.S. I don’t think liking money has ever been characterized as an “addiction,” but in that case, perhaps we are all addicted then.

        1. Ivan doesn’t understand opiate addiction and refuses to understand that when 80% of heroin addicts started on painkillers, you can start to blame the companies pushing those drugs…

          If I started a business to get everyone hooked on a product that isn’t coffee or prescription, what would they call me? Reference the crack epidemic on the early-90s for the answer.

          If it’s shown that the prescription was recklessly meted out to people by Doctors thanks to a spin campaign by Purdue Pharma and others, why should they get protection, or why should blame rest solely at the feet of the addict?

          1. The Sacklers lied about how addictive their painkiller was and they must have thought so what if 200,000 people died. The doctors believed them which also reeks of filthy lucre.The patients, well one would think they would know better as well. My husband had morphine after an operation, he had one treatment, he said it felt great!! He did not get addicted.

          2. Thanks potbelly for sharing the facts. Sure some addicts are capable of recovery, but not all. Many do take responsibility, though. This doesn’t mean that our communities should ignore the problem and leave it up to addicts to fend for themselves.

        2. How do you explain the fact that no other so called “developed country” has this problem? Corruption, fraud, and abuse of the weakest people are behind the epidemic, which are systemic in the USA. Obviously in a country without healthcare, anything goes, and the health of tax paying citizens is the last thing on capitalist big pharma’s mind and the government that lets them get away with it because it’s not their problem.

  3. Shame on the Sacklers. I also know a talented young woman who died after becoming addicted to heroin and it started with neocontin. Street drugs are cheaper but in her case laced with fentinel. I wonder if Sacklers are a little like our Medici if they give money to art museums and universities to partly erase their sins. Sacklers are worse. Evil.

  4. Thank you Mr Esposito and all others refusing to be passive in the face of criminal and immoral behavior.

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