Six states file suit against Purdue Pharma.
London’s National Portrait Gallery announced Wednesday it will not proceed with a $1.3 million grant from the Sackler family, whose company Purdue Pharma produces opioid prescription painkiller OxyContin, amid controversy over the company’s involvement in the U.S. opioid crisis.
Purdue Pharma is being sued by hundreds of local and state governments who claim the company aggressively and deceptively marketed its products in a way that lead to the outbreak of the national opioid crisis. The Sackler family has “vigorously denied” all allegations claiming it is withdrawing funding in order “to avoid being a distraction.”
“It has become evident that recent reporting of allegations made against Sackler family members may cause this new donation to deflect the National Portrait Gallery from its important work,” a Sackler family spokesperson said in a statement to BBC.
In a joint statement, the gallery and family said the decision was mutual to withdraw a pledge, first offered in 2016, to contribute to the gallery’s $46.8 million Inspiring People project.
“I acknowledge the generosity of the Sackler family and their support of the arts over the years. We understand and support their decision not to proceed at this time with the donation to the gallery,” David Ross, the National Portrait Gallery chair.
The National Portrait Gallery is the first major art institution to drop funding from the Sackler family, who has established a reputation in philanthropy worldwide and has donated to institutions including New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and Columbia University.
Activists, led by American artist Nan Goldwin who became addicted to OxyContin after her doctor prescribed the drug, have been protesting the Sacklers at events where charities collect from donors who produce pharmaceuticals. Goldwin said this is an “important” move for museums to consider if their sources of income are justifiable.
“We have to hold museums to a higher standard, they are supposed to be a repository of the best of humanity, a repository of learning and culture,” Goldwin told The Guardian.
Purdue Pharma maintains that OxyContin was approved by regulators and prescribed by doctors. The national opioid crisis began around the time doctors legally began prescribing Purdue Pharma’s OxyContin as well as other opioid prescription painkillers, like Percocet. The epidemic escalated as opioid sales transitioned to the black market.
Other activists argued the gallery’s decision to deny funding based on ethical reasoning regarding the opioid crisis could set new standards for contributions in the future.
“The gallery’s decision to reject a donation from those that profited from the opioid crisis is a powerful acknowledgment that some sources of funding cross a red line,” Jess Worth, the co-director of campaigning organization Culture Unstained told The Guardian.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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