STAMFORD, Connecticut — Yesterday, September 11, the notorious Sackler family came to a tentative agreement to settle the litigation against them and their pharmaceutical company, Purdue Pharma. The effort is led by thousands of states, tribes, and municipal governments across the United States holding Purdue accountable for its production and aggressive marketing tactics of OxyContin and other opioids. If the settlement is approved, the family will shell out $3 billion over seven years.
Many accuse the deal of falling short considering the Sackler’s $13 billion fortune. Further, the Sacklers will not be required to make a statement of wrongdoing for their role in the ongoing opioid epidemic. NBC reports that at least 20 state attorneys general who are suing Purdue reject these settlement conditions.
Among the settlement’s naysayers are activist and photographer Nan Goldin and PAIN Sackler, a drug policy advocacy organization that Goldin founded in 2017 to widely publicize the family’s extensive connections to art philanthropy. The group demands “that all museums, universities, and educational institutions worldwide remove Sackler signage and publicly refuse future funding from the Sacklers.” In recent months, their call to action has seen significant success as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Museum, London’s National Gallery, the Tate, the Louvre, and the American Museum of Natural History have all taken steps to distance their connections to the billionaire clan.
Today, September 12, PAIN Sackler gathered outside of Purdue Pharma’s headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut, to make its cause known. Truth Pharm, a non-profit advocating for policy change to improve treatment options, jointly hosted the action.
The group of activists scattered empty pill bottles along the sidewalk and set up a makeshift cemetery in front of Purdue to memorialize individuals who have lost their lives to substance abuse disorders.
“The Sacklers are walking away with billions of dollars. Enough to keep their family wealthy for many, many generations,” Alexis Pleus, founder and executive director of Truth Pharm, addressed the group. “Meanwhile, families like my family are destroyed with lifelong grief.”
“Every dime of that settlement needs to go to the people directly impacted by this epidemic,” Pleus urged. “Relief for the families who have lost; money to raise the children who are left behind; research to make sure that we can have a treatment that’s more effective than what we have today; treatment that’s accessible to every American who is suffering from addiction; and harm reduction. And not one dime into criminal justice efforts […] We know what criminal justice efforts do. They protect people like the Sacklers. The Sacklers have killed more people than any drug dealer on the street, and yet they are protected from criminal charges.”
“We want the Sacklers to have their day in court,” Megan Kapler of PAIN addressed the impassioned crowd. “We want to see all the documents of when they decided to poison the population in this country.”
A number of community members joined the effort to speak on their relationships with substance abuse disorders that originated from legal prescriptions. Passing drivers on the busy road honked in support as the protesters chanted calls like “Purdue lied, people die.”
As the action continued, police started to roll in and building security made their way outside. Police instructed activists to clean up their pill bottles from the sidewalk, but also demanded that they not take any of those that had rolled into Purdue’s private driveway. The activists were then ordered by an officer not to leave the area and told they were being “detained” but not arrested.
Connecticut State Representative David Michel arrived as police presence grew to over 10 officers to quell the approximately two dozen activists. Ultimately, there were no arrests and the activists were given permission to exit; the officers requested that future protesters be cleared by local government and police beforehand.
PAIN and Truth Pharm ended with a moment of silence and commemoration of loved ones lost to the opioid epidemic, after which Rep. Michel addressed the group, saying: “Thank you for being a voice for those who lost it.” PAIN and Truth Pharm marched off the premises with a confident chant: “Purdue knew the pills would kill.”
“The main thing I have to say today is don’t settle,” Goldin, who was celebrating her birthday today, told Hyperallergic after the action. She called today’s protest a “last-ditch attempt to try to effect this settlement.”
As for the ongoing role of museums and universities in the ongoing controversy, she urges institutions not to look at this lack of culpability in court as a reason to keep the Sackler name on their institutions. “It’s a fake settlement,” she asserts.
“We have to continue to show up, we have to continue to spread information through whatever means possible,” she says. “Including showing up in the streets and screaming; including continuing to put pressure on museums to take down their name.”