The Sackler family owns Purdue Pharma, manufacturer of the painkiller OxyContin. The drug generated billions of dollars for the Sacklers thanks in part to a marketing campaign that deliberately and severely downplayed OxyContin’s addictive qualities.
Purdue on Wednesday agreed to an $8.3 billion settlement with the Department of Justice and pleaded guilty to three federal criminal charges, including conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government and violating federal anti-kickback laws by paying doctors to write more prescriptions for OxyContin.
NYU Langone Medical Center spokesperson Lisa Greiner told HuffPost the Sackler name was “inconsistent with our institution’s values and incompatible with our mission, which is dedicated to patient care, education, and research to improve human health.”
More than 232,000 Americans have died from overdoses involving prescription opioids in the last two decades.
In addition to the Graduate Biomedical Institute, the Sackler name will be removed from all other named programs at the school, Greiner said.
Daniel S. Connolly, an attorney representing the Sackler family, called the decision “disappointing.”
“As soon as Purdue documents are released they will show the company’s history and that members of the Sackler family who served on the board of directors always acted ethically and lawfully,” Connolly said in an emailed statement, “so it is disappointing that NYU is rushing to judgment.”
The decision follows in the footsteps of Tufts University, which announced plans to scrub its Sackler-branded health sciences campus last December.
Connolly at the time called Tufts’ decision “disturbing and intellectually dishonest” in an interview with The New York Times. Connolly noted the Tufts endowment came from Arthur M. Sackler, a deceased member of the family who played no part in the development of OxyContin.
Numerous other medical institutes at universities and major cultural institutions still bear the Sackler name, including Cornell, Columbia, Harvard, Yale and the University of Cambridge.
In 2019, Yale pledged to cease accepting donations from the family, but stopped short of stripping the family name.
Paris’ Louvre Museum scrubbed the Sackler name from its walls last July.
The settlement with federal prosecutors also requires Purdue to become a public benefit company owned by a trust and “function entirely in the public interest,” according to a Wednesday statement by the DOJ. Any profits Purdue yields by selling OxyContin and other drugs must be directed toward “state and local opioid abatement programs,” the statement said.
Several state attorneys general criticized the details of the settlement, saying the DOJ let the Sacklers off the hook and failed to deliver justice.
“This settlement provides a mere mirage of justice for the victims of Purdue’s callous misconduct,” Connecticut Attorney General William Tong (D) said in a statement. “The federal government had the power here to put the Sacklers in jail, and they didn’t. Instead, they took fines and penalties that [Purdue] likely will never fully pay.”