The Sackler family made billions from OxyContin. Why do top US colleges take money tainted by the opioid crisis? | US news | The Guardian
Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty in 2006 in federal court to marketing OxyContin “with the intent to defraud or mislead”. At the time, the company paid a $600m fine – widely seen as a slap on the wrist – while executives paid additional fines of $34.5m.
Over the years, some of America’s leading universities have accepted large sums of money from the Sacklers for science research and the Sackler name is prominently attached to their institutions. So, in light of recent revelations about the origins of the Sackler wealth, will these universities attempt to somehow hold the Sacklers to account?
For now, they are not saying.
Four universities contacted declined requests for an interview. “We will not be able to offer anyone for an interview,” said Weill Cornell Medicine, home of the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Center for Biomedical and Physical Sciences.
“At this time, we do not have any comment,” replied Tufts University, which is home to the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences.
Questions to Columbia University about its Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology went unanswered.
Among the universities contacted, the one that did respond was Yale, which has a professorship funded by the Sacklers at its Cancer Center and which is also home to the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Institute for Biological, Physical and Engineering Sciences.
While Yale would not agree to an interview, nor would it answer specific questions about its decision to accept Sackler funds, it did provide a written statement which said in part: “The Sackler family has provided generous gifts to support research at Yale in service of our mission to improve the world today and for future generations.”
The statement also acknowledged the toll of opioids and catalogued the broader work the university is doing to combat the epidemic. “Yale faculty members, staff, and students – particularly those in the departments of psychiatry, internal medicine, and emergency medicine – are working tirelessly to determine the causes of and treatments for addiction.”
As for OxyContin, universities may find it increasingly difficult to champion their research under the Sackler banner
But do Yale’s good works justify its decision to accept Sackler funds?
Reich says the answer is complicated. “The relevant question is not just a utilitarian one about whether or not tainted money can be used to produce some aggregate social benefit,” he says. “There’s the question about whether Yale or any other university wants to be complicit in the reputation laundering of the donor. And at the very minimum there is that negative to put on the ledger of whatever good could be done with the gift.”
For a long time, the Sacklers flew under the radar. Forbes concedes that when it launched its initial list of wealthiest US families in 2014, it missed the Sacklers entirely, but their 2015 edition notes that their wealth exceeds that of famed families like the Mellons and the Rockefellers.
It was only last October, when investigations into the origins of the family’s wealth were published by the New Yorker, Esquire and others, that the spotlight began to shine intensely on them.