Freer|Sackler and the Opioid Crisis

19 10 2017

Some food for thought the next time you find yourself “Encountering the Buddha” at the Freer|Sackler . . .

As reported today on Democracy Now! (and elsewhere previously:  “The Secretive Family Making Billions from the Opioid Crisis,”  “How the American opiate epidemic was started by one pharmaceutical company” ), the same Sackler family for which the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of Asian art is named is making billions from the manufacture and sale of Oxycontin.

Democracy Now! interviews journalist Christopher Glazek, who writes in the Esquire:

The newly installed Sackler Courtyard at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum is one of the most glittering places in the developed world […] The Sackler Courtyard is the latest addition to an impressive portfolio. There’s the Sackler Wing at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, which houses the majestic Temple of Dendur, a sandstone shrine from ancient Egypt; additional Sackler wings at the Louvre and the Royal Academy; stand-alone Sackler museums at Harvard and Peking Universities; and named Sackler galleries at the Smithsonian, the Serpentine, and Oxford’s Ashmolean. The Guggenheim in New York has a Sackler Center, and the American Museum of Natural History has a Sackler Educational Lab.

Esquire pull quote:

The family’s leaders have pulled off three of the great marketing triumphs of the modern era: The first is selling OxyContin; the second is promoting the Sackler name; and the third is ensuring that, as far as the public is aware, the first and the second have nothing to do with one another.

As Glazek reports, the Oxy market in the U.S. is diminishing due to regulatory issues and bad press, and so, “borrowing from the Big Tobacco playbook,” the Sacklers are turning to overseas markets.

The Democracy Now! interview concludes:

AMY GOODMAN: In May, a dozen members of Congress sent a bipartisan letter to the World Health Organization that warned the Sackler-owned drug companies were preparing to flood foreign countries with legal narcotics. The letter mentions the Sacklers by name, notes they own Purdue Pharma, and reads, quote, “Purdue began the opioid crisis that has devastated American communities. … Today, Mundipharma is using many of the same deceptive and reckless practices to sell OxyContin abroad.” Mundipharma, owned by the Sacklers. And the L.A. Times reporting the company circulated a press release in Colombia that suggested 47 percent of the population suffered from chronic pain. Your final comment on all of this, Christopher Glazek, and where it goes now?

CHRISTOPHER GLAZEK: Well, the big question is complicity, and it’s a really tricky question. You know, is Tufts University complicit in the opioid epidemic because they’ve taken huge amounts of money from the Sacklers? You know, is a third-generation Sackler heir, who maybe is a documentary filmmaker or restaurateur—do they have some burden or complicity to address here? And I think that’s a complicated question. But the solution to complexity is not secrecy. And what we’ve seen again and again is that people who have taken Sackler money, and the Sacklers themselves, have concealed their connection to OxyContin. And that cannot be the solution to the problem.

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