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Oligarch of the Month: The Sacklers

Since their company, Purdue Pharma, released OxyContin in 1996, almost half a million Americans have died from opioid overdoses.

Stephane De Sakutin/AFP/Getty

Not so long ago, the Sackler name was stamped across the most rarified perches in Manhattan—in the psychobiology department at Columbia University, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and at the Museum of Natural History. Lately, though, we’ve been seeing the Sackler moniker in far less esteemed venues, as a cluster of lawsuits have uncovered how Sackler marketing spurred on the American opioid crisis. More than 400,000 Americans have died from opioid overdoses since the family’s company, Purdue Pharma, released OxyContin in 1996.

To be sure, our financial titans and philanthropy recipients tolerate plenty of bad behavior, but even they are queasy about associating with the country’s most notorious limited liability cartel. The Guggenheim, for example, has stopped accepting donations from the Sackler clan, while the hedge fund Hildene expelled Sackler money. Even JPMorgan Chase, which enjoyed an impressive run of wheeling and dealing with Bernie Madoff, has spurned their patronage.

Mounting a charm offensive of their own, the Sacklers have appealed to the media to clear their names. Elizabeth Sackler, the eponymous founder of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum, argues that her wing of the family shouldn’t be stigmatized as glorified opioid pushers. Her father sold his stake in Purdue before it launched OxyContin, she notes. What’s more, her Sacklers aren’t even billionaires, just modest millionaires, who got rich peddling more benign products like laxatives. Meanwhile, Joss Sackler, the entrepreneurial force behind a $2,500 per year social club and an allied clothing line, charged The New York Times to stop covering “the men in my life” and “review the fucking neon hoodies.”

In September, The Intercept reported that Purdue had hired the PR firm that British Petroleum used in the disastrous wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. British Petroleum forked over $10,000 a day to flood Google with favorable search results and rebranded itself as BP. So now we wait: for gnomically named “S” museum wings and “S”-brand neon hoodies, back in the pages of Vogue.