On Friday, the artist Nan Goldin led a protest of around 70 people at the Arthur M. Sackler Museum at Harvard University to raise awareness of members of the Sackler family’s role in fueling the opioid crisis, which the Center for Disease Control says killed over 42,249 people in the United States in 2016. The museum’s namesake was a co-founder of Purdue Pharma, which after his death began manufacturing OxyContin, the destructive painkiller that is one of the leading killers in the crisis. Purdue is now being sued by six states for falsely claiming that their product was not addictive. In 2007, the company pled guilty to a felony charge of “misbranding” its product, and was forced to pay a fine of $634.5 million—a drop of a bucket for a pharmaceutical juggernaut that has $3 billion in revenues per year, mostly from Oxycontin, and has built the $14 billion Sackler family fortune.
The protestors filed in at 4 p.m., and began chanting slogans including “Sacklers lie, people die, fund harm reduction now,” and “People over profit,” and carried signs that said “Sacklers must pay,” “More deaths than the Vietnam war—no more,” and “Oxy kills.” They also flung pill bottles with labels that read “OxyContin. Extremely addictive. Will kill. Side effect: death.” around the museum, and at one point staged a “die-in” where all the protestors fell to the ground and lay silent. The CDC estimates that 115 people in the U.S. die from the opioid crisis every day, the equivalent of a daily plane crash with no survivors.
Goldin, who herself suffered an addiction to painkillers, has staged similar protests at other museums that have received funding from members of the Sackler family. (Arthur M. Sackler died in 1987, years before the company began manufacturing OxyContin, and his estate sold his shares to his brothers Mortimer and Raymond shortly thereafter.) Past protests against the drug manufacturer have included the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, which has a wing named for the Sackler. The protestors are asking that the institutions refuse future funding from the family, and that Purdue Pharma donate 50 percent of its profits to helping end the opioid crisis, which is on track to kill a million people in the U.S. by 2020. Last month, an artist and his dealer dropped a sculpture of a giant drug spoon outside Purdue Pharma’s Connecticut headquarters in protest of its profiteering from the opioid crisis.