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Reject donations from opioid-linked family

January 25, 2019

More than two decades after the debut of OxyContin, the toll across the nation from the opioids crisis it helped spawn is hard to quantify.

Beyond the thousands of lives lost and families torn apart, there are countless bankruptcies, medical emergencies, even the disintegration of entire communities.

The response from public officials has taken a variety of forms, including punishment for the people and businesses deemed responsible. To that end, Stamford-based Purdue Pharma and three top executives pleaded guilty in 2007 to charges of misleading doctors and patients about OxyContin and its risk of addiction and potential to be abused.

But that was far from the end of the story. In the ensuing years, as the drug crisis continued to mount, dozens of states, cities and other entities have filed new suits against the company, claiming untold harms caused by its products and alleging that it lied about its safety and efficacy. One suit, filed by town and city leaders across Connecticut, was recently tossed out, but hundreds more remain, likely headed for a major settlement.

And still, with all that, the company’s founding Sackler family has managed to not only escape official opprobrium but somehow remain in the public eye in apparently good standing. Via its philanthropy, the Sackler name is plastered on everything from The Raymond and Beverly Sackler Institute for Biological, Physical and Engineering Sciences at Yale University to the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution.

Then there are the political donations. The Sackler family has been a generous donor over the years to politicians on the left side of the spectrum, with past contributions to Rep. Jim Himes and Sen. Chris Murphy, as well as the state Democratic Party. National figures like Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have also seen donations, as well as some Republicans.

Revelations in a Massachusetts suit against Purdue are likely to change the public view of the family. In recently filed court documents that cite internal company communications, the state attorney general alleges that family members knew about Oxy’s destructive potential and devastating human toll, and yet continued to push the drug. Far from bystanders, the family is portrayed as active participants in the mounting disaster.

The company responded by claiming the information cited in the suit doesn’t tell the whole story.

Maybe it doesn’t. Regardless, politicians on all sides need to end their association with the company and stop taking the family’s money. Murphy, for one, says he’s already donated past contributions, and others are said to be considering the same. Any institution that bears its name, including Yale, needs to think seriously about whether the millions of dollars it brings with it balances out the damage to the recipient’s reputation.

The ultimate fate of recent actions against Purdue and the Sackler family is uncertain. But enough is known for anyone offered their money to make a simple choice: Either don’t take it, or give it away.

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