The charity tied to the multibillionaire Sackler family ― of which some members own opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma ― said Monday that it will suspend its donations in the U.K., days after several top museums on both sides of the Atlantic announced they would no longer accept its financial support.
The company and several members of the Sackler family are battling numerous lawsuits accusing them of exacerbating and profiting off of the opioid crisis in the U.S. The family has said the allegations are not true.
“The Trustees of the Sackler Trust have taken the difficult decision to temporarily pause all new philanthropic giving, while still honoring existing commitments,” Theresa Sackler, the charity’s chair, said in a statement. She called the “current press attention” to the lawsuits against the company “a distraction for institutions that are applying for grants.”
“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,” she said.
The Guggenheim Museum in New York said over the weekend that it will not accept any additional donations from the Sackler Trust. Museum officials, who have said the institution received $9 million from the family between 1995 and 2015, did not specify the reason, but the Guggenheim had faced mounting pressure to stop accepting donations from the family.
In February, protesters staged a “die-in” at the museum and threw flyers that were made to look like prescriptions, a reference to former company executive Richard Sackler reportedly predicting that Purdue Pharma’s aggressive marketing of prescription painkiller OxyContin would be “followed by a blizzard of prescriptions that will bury the competition.”
London’s National Portrait Gallery said last week that it had reached a joint decision with the family “not to proceed” with a $1.3 million donation. Gallery officials had been mulling whether to accept the donation and carried out an “internal review process in line with our ethical fundraising policy and charitable objectives.”
The Tate galleries in the U.K. announced days later that “we do not think it right to seek or accept further donations from the Sacklers.”
Two branches of the Sackler family own Purdue Pharma, which makes prescription painkiller OxyContin. The drug has been blamed for thousands of deaths in the opioid crisis. Lawsuits from 36 states and more than 1,600 municipalities in the U.S. have alleged that the company and its aggressive marketing of OxyContin have contributed to the opioid crisis.
In 2017, 47,600 people died from opioid overdoses, including from prescription painkillers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Photographer Nan Goldin, who has led some of the protests against the Sackler family, declared last month that she would refuse a planned retrospective of her work at Britain’s National Portrait Gallery if it accepted the Sackler Trust’s donation.
“I really feel it’s so important museums listen to their artists, rather than their philanthropists,” Goldin, who is recovering from opioid abuse, told The Guardian last month. “What is the museum for? Art is transcendent and that makes it very, very dirty if they take the money; it’s failing the whole idea of a museum as a place to show art.”
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