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UConn to redirect donations from opioid maker owners

By JENNIFER McDERMOTT and COLLIN BINKLEYOctober 9, 2019

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — The University of Connecticut will redirect some of the money it received from the family that owns OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma to support addiction research and education at the school, university officials said Wednesday.

The university, which says it received about $4.5 million from members of the Sackler family between 1985 and 2014, will redirect all the unspent money except for a donation that supports a regenerative engineering lab, spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz said. The lab’s funding covers salaries for staff jobs that would otherwise have to be cut, she said.

“That would have been unfair to them and the important research they are supporting,” she said. “UConn is now in the process of reprogramming the other funds received from Sackler gifts to be used for addiction research and education.”

The announcement comes a week after an AP review revealed that universities around the world have accepted more than $60 million from Sackler family foundations since 2013, even as family members faced lawsuits related to the opioid crisis. No schools have indicated they have any plans to return the money.

UConn’s decision to redirect the funding follows a similar move at Brown University, which said in late September it will steer remaining donations from the Sackler Foundation to Rhode Island nonprofit groups that treat opioid addiction.

UConn’s gifts were not detailed in tax and charity records reviewed by The AP and mostly came before 2013. The donations have supported research in a wide range of scientific fields, along with several campus art programs.

The university didn’t immediately say how much of the funding is remaining. It was planning to make a formal announcement once the money was redirected, spokesman Mike Enright said.

Some schools have said they will stop accepting money from the Sacklers, including Yale University, Cornell University and the California Institute of Technology. Brown and the University of Washington have said they have no plans to accept gifts for the foreseeable future.

Brown spokesman Brian Clark said Monday that’s the most the school can do “considering that we cannot presume to speak to what future generations might do.”

Enright said UConn may consider accepting a future gift if it was for addiction research or education, or an equally good cause.

Other schools declined this week to say how they would handle any future proposals. A statement from McGill University in Montreal on Tuesday said the last donation was received in 2016. “Since then, there has been no further discussion from our end,” spokeswoman Cynthia Lee said.

McGill accepted about $3.2 million from 2014 through 2016, according to the AP review. The largest recipients since 2013 were Rockefeller University, with $11 million, and the University of Sussex in England, with about $10 million. The University of Sussex has said the school actually received about $4 million over the past decade, while another pledge “was not progressed.”

Some of the donations arrived before recent lawsuits blaming Purdue Pharma for worsening the opioid crisis, but at least nine schools accepted gifts in 2018 or later, when states and counties across the country began holding the Sacklers accountable for Purdue’s actions.

Major beneficiaries of Sackler foundations also included the University of Oxford in England and Columbia University in New York. In total, at least two dozen universities have received gifts from the foundations since 2013, the records show.

Tel Aviv University, which did not respond to earlier requests for comment, said Tuesday that it considers donations on an individual basis and will apply the same policy to Sackler donations, “if and when offered.”

Speaking at a 2013 event recognizing the Sacklers, Tel Aviv University’s president said the family is “nothing short of a brand name” on campus and that “practically every step you take” leads to a unit supported with Sackler funding.

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Binkley reported from Boston.

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Follow Jennifer McDermott on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JenMcDermottAP. Follow Collin Binkley on Twitter at https://twitter.com/cbinkley.

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