Photographer Nan Goldin and nearly 100 other demonstrators staged a protest over the weekend against a Big Pharma donor’s contribution to the Metropolitan Museum of Art by dumping mock pill bottles into the moat at the Temple of Dendur.
The 2,000-year-old temple is located in the museum’s Sackler wing, which was named for brothers Arthur, Mortimer and Raymond Sackler. The Sackler family currently owns Purdue Pharma, which makes and aggressively markets its prescription painkiller OxyContin. (Arthur Sackler died before Purdue developed OxyContin.) The drug’s active ingredient, oxycodone, is among the most common painkillers in prescription opioid deaths.
Protesters shouted “shame on the Sacklers” as they tossed the pill bottles, which were labeled: “Prescribed to you by the Sackler Family,” The Guardian reported. Demonstrators also demanded that the family fund drug treatment for addicts.
“In the name of the dead, Sackler family, Purdue Pharma. Hear our demands. Use your profits. Save our lives,” said Goldin per ARTNews.
At the end of the demonstration, the protesters lay on the ground and staged an opioid overdose “die in.”
Although security guards ordered the protesters to disperse, no action was taken to detain them. The demonstrators left about 20 minutes after the protest began, according to The Guardian.
The museum did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the protest.
Jillian Sackler, the widow of Dr. Arthur Sackler, said in a statement that her late husband died nearly a decade before Purdue Pharma developed and marketed OxyContin.
“At the time of his death in 1987, Arthur was lauded for his contributions to medical research, medical communications and museums,” she wrote. “He was a renowned art collector and connoisseur, and because of this, we have the Arthur M. Sacker Gallery of Chinese Stone Sculpture at The Met, the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian, the Arthur M. Sackler Museum at Harvard, the Jillian and Arthur M. Sackler Wing of Galleries at the Royal Academy and the Arthur M. Sackler Museum of Art and Archaeology and the Jillian Sackler Sculpture Garden at Peking University.
“None of the charitable donations made by Arthur prior to his death, nor that I made on his behalf after his death, were funded by the production, distribution or sale of OxyContin or other revenue from Purdue Pharma. Period.”
The Met protest was not Goldin’s first attempt to effect change on this issue. She also founded the group Prescription Addiction Intervention Now and launched a petition on Change.org calling on the Sackler family to use their “vast fortune” that was made producing “one of the most addictive painkillers ever” to fund rehab and other treatments.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 42,000 people in the U.S. died in 2016 from opioid overdoses.
In 2007, Purdue’s parent company pleaded guilty to a federal felony charge of mischaracterizing OxyContin, which prosecutors said was marketed as less addictive and less likely to cause withdrawal than other painkillers. A number of states have since accused Purdue in lawsuits of deceptively marketing its products to make billions of dollars. The New Yorker has examined the Sackler empire and donations in a scathing article: “The Family That Built An Empire of Pain.”
This story has been updated with a statement from Jillian Sackler, widow of Dr. Arthur Sackler.