Merkley Calls on Smithsonian to Remove Sackler Name from Asian Art Gallery

Merkley Calls on Smithsonian to Remove Sackler Name from Asian Art Gallery

Sackler family profited from promoting OxyContin and misleading the public about its addictiveness, helping fuel today’s opioid epidemic

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley today called on the Smithsonian Institution to remove the Sackler name from its Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of Asian Art in Washington, D.C. His call for the name’s removal follows recent revelations that members of the Sackler family were personally involved in the aggressive marketing of the pain drug OxyContin, fueling today’s opioid epidemic, and that family members tried to contain the PR fallout of the opioid addiction crisis by blaming victims for their own addictions.

“The Sackler family, as you may know, built their fortune through their pharmaceutical company, Purdue Pharma, and the making of OxyContin,” Merkley wrote in a letter to Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie Bunch III. “While the Sackler family has provided philanthropic support to several major cultural institutions around the world, including the Smithsonian’s Sackler Gallery of Art, the Sackler family hooked thousands of Americans on OxyContin through aggressive and misleading marketing tactics and profited from one of the deadliest public health crises in our country. Contrary to prior public representations, recently uncovered documents show clearly that Sackler family members personally and aggressively drove Purdue’s strategy to get Americans hooked on OxyContin.”

Those emails show that Richard Sackler, the then-president of Purdue, not only aggressively pushed to market and increase sales of OxyContin, but also advocated for a PR strategy of blaming victims for their own addictions to contain the fallout from the crisis Purdue helped create. “We have to hammer on the abusers in every way possible,” Sackler wrote. “They are the culprits and the problem.” Sackler pushed for this blame-the-victim strategy despite the fact that Purdue falsely marketed OxyContin as less addictive than other opioid painkillers and pushed doctors to prescribe high doses.

When informed of 59 OxyContin related deaths in a single state, Sackler replied, “This is not too bad. It could have been far worse.”

In recent months, calls have grown for various institutions to remove the Sackler name from their buildings. In March, the Guggenheim Museum and Tate galleries announced that they would no longer accept gifts from the Sackler family, and Britain’s National Portrait Gallery declined to accept a $1.3 million donation from the family. In May, the Metropolitan Museum of Art followed suit.

In 2017, the most recent year for which Centers for Disease Control data is available, more than 47,000 Americans died from an opioid overdose.

As a taxpayer-funded institution, the Smithsonian is supposed to serve the American people, yet its gallery is currently being used to promote and burnish the name of a family that orchestrated and profited off the creation of today’s opioid epidemic. As a public museum, the Smithsonian Institution is in a unique position to lead the way in removing the Sackler name from major public institutions.

“The Sackler name has no place in taxpayer-funded public institutions, such as the Freer-Sackler Gallery, and I ask that you remove the name from the gallery,” Merkley concluded.

The full text of Merkley’s letter is available here and follows below.

 

Secretary Bunch,

I write to request that you remove the Sackler family name from the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of Art.

The Sackler family, as you may know, built their fortune through their pharmaceutical company, Purdue Pharma, and the making of OxyContin. While the Sackler family has provided philanthropic support to several major cultural institutions around the world, including the Smithsonian’s Sackler Gallery of Art, the Sackler family hooked thousands of Americans on OxyContin through aggressive and misleading marketing tactics and profited from one of the deadliest public health crises in our country.

Contrary to prior public representations, recently uncovered documents show clearly that Sackler family members personally and aggressively drove Purdue’s strategy to get Americans hooked on OxyContin. Emails made public through lawsuits now show that multiple family members were personally involved in the strategy to promote and continue selling high doses of opioid painkillers. Richard Sackler, the former president and chairman of Purdue, personally recommended a PR strategy of blaming victims for their own addictions, and responded to the news of 59 OxyContin-related deaths in a single state, “This is not too bad. It could have been far worse.”

The Sackler name has no place in taxpayer-funded public institutions, such as the Freer-Sackler Gallery, and I ask that you remove the name from the gallery.

Thank you for your attention to this letter, and I look forward to your response.