The Sackler family is pushing back after Tufts University removed the family name from its buildings and programs due to the family’s link to the ongoing opioid epidemic, according to a report in The New York Times.
In a letter to Tufts’ president, a lawyer for the family wrote that the removal was “contrary to basic notions of fairness” and “a breach of the many binding commitments made by the University dating back to 1980 in order to secure the family’s support, including millions of dollars in donations for facilities and critical medical research.
Tufts made the decision to remove the family name after getting the results of an independent review of the university’s relationship with the Sacklers and OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma, which the Sacklers own. Both the family and the company have been accused of helping to spark the crisis by aggressively marketing the powerful painkiller and misleading doctors, patients, and regulators about its addictiveness.
In court filings, the Massachusetts attorney general alleged that the Sacklers and Purdue used their relationship with Tufts to gain access to doctors and influence pain treatment.
The review found that Purdue did intend to use the relationship to advance its interests. And, according to the report, in some cases, it was successful in influencing the academic institution. “Moreover, we conclude that there was an appearance of too close a relationship between Purdue, the Sacklers, and Tufts,” the report said.
The letter from the Sackler family lawyer hinted at the possibility of legal action.
A spokesperson for Tufts, Michael Rodman, said in a statement: “We considered a number of factors in making the decision to remove the Sackler name and ultimately decided that the association with Tufts University was untenable and in opposition with the values and mission of the medical school and the university. Since the announcement we have received incredible support from faculty, students, alumni and the public. We at Tufts stand by our decision, we know that it is the right thing to do, and we are prepared to vigorously defend our position.”
Tufts is just the latest institution to flush references of the family, which has provided substantial support for museums and other academic institutions.
Although, not all of the Sackler family is involved with OxyContin. Of the original three Sackler brothers involved in Purdue, one of them—Arthur—died before the painkiller was introduced, and his brothers bought out his stake in the company. Arthur’s widow, Jillian Sackler, released a statement saying in part, “It deeply saddens me to witness Arthur being blamed for actions taken by his brothers and other OxySacklers.”