Amid revelations about pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma’s role in the national opioid crisis, the University has been quietly severing its ties from the Sackler family — the company’s owners and major donors to Yale.
According to University spokesperson Karen Peart, University administrators decided to stop accepting donations from the Sackler family earlier this year. Members of the Sackler family founded and own Purdue Pharma, the creator and manufacturer of the popular narcotic painkiller OxyContin that has been seen as an early driver of the opioid epidemic. At Yale, the Sackler family has funded endowed professorships at the School of Medicine and the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Institute for Biological, Physical and Engineering Sciences, among other gifts.
When asked about the controversy surrounding the Sackler Institute’s namesake, Director of the Sackler Institute Thomas Pollard — a molecular, cellular and developmental biology professor — told the News that the Sackler Institute will “still [exist] as an endowment to support” the broader umbrella of programs in physics, engineering and biology. Peart said Yale has no plans to get rid of the Sackler Institute, but is working to align related research under a larger program in preparation for its STEM investment.
“Yale is committed to research and educational efforts to combat the devastating effects of opioid addiction affecting communities across the nation,” Peart said in a statement to the News. “Members of the Sackler family have provided gifts over the years to support research at Yale in a number of academic disciplines. We are aware of the ongoing efforts, legal and otherwise, aimed at determining potential contributing factors to the epidemic, and we have continued to monitor the outcomes of those efforts.”
Sackler family representatives did not respond to requests for comment.
In 2017, former University Vice President for Communications Eileen O’Connor told the News that once a fund or program is named for a benefactor, the University must receive donor permission in order to rename that center. The Sackler Institute was established in 2008, following a gift from the family.
Outside of Yale, the Sacklers — whose estimated wealth hovers around $13 billion — have funded a variety of artistic enterprises, including an Egyptian art wing at The Met in New York City, a building at the Tate Galleries in London and a center for arts education at The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.
Early this year, Sen. Elizabeth Warren called on Harvard to remove the Sackler name from any buildings on campus. But Harvard President Lawrence Bacow said such a move would be “inappropriate” because Arthur Sackler and his family were not involved at the time OxyContin was developed.
Connecticut court filings from past years allege that Purdue Pharma aggravated the opioid epidemic by aggressively marketing OxyContin and misrepresenting the drug’s addictive qualities. Almost two dozen states — including Massachusetts, New York and Virginia — have sued the Sackler family. Responding to this pressure, Purdue Pharma filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Sept. 15. Earlier this month, the New York attorney general’s office announced that it had tracked around $1 billion in wire transfers by members of the family, suggesting that they tried to shield wealth in preparation for lawsuits condemning their role in the opioid crisis.
“Yale is committed to research and educational efforts to combat the devastating effects of opioid addiction affecting communities across the nation,” Peart wrote in an email to the News.
In an interview with the News, Matthew Abrams GRD ’17 — the author of a Guardian op-ed about Yale’s ties to the Sackler family and a former OxyContin addict — said the University should “open up a harm reduction center on Old Campus” to address opioid addiction.
Opioid overdoses kill an average of two Connecticut residents per day, according to a complaint filed by the State of Connecticut in April.
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Correction, Sept. 25: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that abuse of OxyContin is estimated to cause 100,000 deaths every year.
Correction, Sept. 27: A previous version of this article misidentified a representative for the Sackler family. Jo Sheldon — who referred comment to representatives of the Sackler family — is a representative for the Sackler Trust, not the family.