Tufts University Removes Name Of OxyContin’s Sackler Family Over Opioid Epidemic

Tufts University said Thursday that it is removing the Sackler family name from five medical science programs and facilities in response to concerns from students and faculty over the family’s connection to the opioid epidemic.

“Our students, faculty, staff, alumni, and others have shared with us the negative impact the Sackler name has on them each day, noting the human toll of the opioid epidemic in which members of the Sackler family and their company, Purdue Pharma, are associated,” the university said in a statement. “We are grateful to those who have shared their thoughts with us. It is clear that the Sackler name, with its link to the current health crisis, runs counter to the school’s mission.”

Multiple facilities at Tufts have been named after the Sacklers since the billionaire family began donating to the institution in the 1980s. The university is taking the name off its graduate school of biomedical sciences, a medical education center, a laboratory and two research funds.

The Sackler family has long owned and operated pharmaceutical giant Purdue Pharma, which created the addictive painkiller OxyContin in the 1990s. Public health advocates say that the drug has been a key factor in driving the current opioid crisis, which has led to hundreds of thousands of overdose deaths and which researchers believe has played a large part in decreasing life expectancy rates in the U.S.

Tufts said Thursday that it would not return the nearly $15 million in donations from members of the family since 1980 or rescind an honorary degree bestowed in 2013 on the late Purdue co-founder Raymond Sackler, The New York Times reported.

The university also said it would establish a $3 million endowment for “education, research, and civic engagement programs aimed at the prevention and treatment of addiction and substance abuse.”

Daniel S. Connolly, a Sackler attorney, called Tufts’ decision to “remove the name of a donor who made gifts in good faith” for almost 40 years “particularly disturbing and intellectually dishonest,” according to the Times.

The widow of Arthur M. Sackler, for whom the medical education center was named, said in a separate statement that her husband was not responsible for OxyContin.

“Arthur had nothing to do with OxyContin. The man has been dead for 32 years. He did not profit from OxyContin, and none of his philanthropic gifts were in any way connected to opioids or to deceptive medical marketing — which he likewise had nothing to do with,” Jillian Sackler said, according to The Washington Post. “It deeply saddens me to witness Arthur being blamed for actions taken by his brothers and other OxySacklers.”

The Sackler family has donated to numerous universities ― including Harvard, Yale, Tel Aviv University and the University of Cambridge ― as well as arts institutions like Paris’ Louvre Museum and New York’s Guggenheim Museum and Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Louvre scrubbed the Sackler name from its walls in July. 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who is running for president, has urged Harvard to remove the Sackler name from its buildings. In a Medium post in May, the former Harvard law professor wrote that Americans deserve a country “where when people like the Sacklers destroy millions of lives to make money, they don’t get museum wings named after them, they go to jail.”