New York's Met museum to shun Sackler family donations

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People visit the Sackler Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on March 28, 2019 in New York CityImage source, Spencer Platt/Getty Images
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The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced it will stop accepting gifts from the Sackler family, linked to OxyContin

New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art said on Wednesday that it will shun gifts from the US Sackler family, made rich by the production of opioids.

The billionaire family owns Purdue Pharma, a company that manufactures opioids like OxyContin - linked to the deaths of thousands of Americans.

The company has denied allegations that they downplayed concerns about abuse and addiction to encourage wider use.

The Met's move follows a wave of similar decisions by other galleries.

The National Portrait Gallery and the Tate galleries in London, and the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum in New York have already sought to distance themselves from the controversial art patrons.

The Met draws more than seven million visitors each year, making it one of the most visited art museums in the world.

Image source, Reuters
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The Sacklers own a company which makes opioids - a class of drugs linked to the deaths of thousands of Americans

"The museum takes a position of gratitude and respect to those who support us, but on occasion, we feel it's necessary to step away from gifts that are not in the public interest, or in our institution's interest," said Daniel H Weiss, the president of the Met, according to the New York Times. "That is what we're doing here."

Mr Weiss said the museum will not remove the family's name from the Sackler Wing, home to the Temple of Dendur and one of the Met's most popular attractions.

The decision severs a decades-old relationship between the museum and the Sackler family.

The New York Times cited a 1978 news release announcing the dedication of the Sackler Wing, which cost $9.5 m (£8.48m) to build, approximately $36 million in today's dollars.

In March, Purdue Pharma reached a $270m settlement in a lawsuit which claimed its opioids contributed to the deaths of thousands.

The lawsuit filed by Oklahoma claimed that in order to persuade doctors to prescribe their painkillers, Purdue, and other companies such as Johnson & Johnson and Teva Pharmaceutical, allegedly decided to "falsely downplay the risk of opioid addiction" and "overstate" the benefits of their drugs to treat a wide range of conditions.

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Funding from the Sackler Trust has been used for the new Tate Modern building in London

The deal is the first Purdue has struck amid some 2,000 other lawsuits linked to its painkiller OxyContin.

The companies deny the claims.

In a statement posted on the Sackler trust website in March, chair of the trust Dame Theresa Sackler wrote that the family would "temporarily pause all new philanthropic giving" in the UK because of the heightened scrutiny on Purdue Pharma.

"This attention is distracting them from the important work that they do," she wrote.

In Canada, meanwhile, a Toronto-based law firm said on Wednesday it has begun the process to launch a $1.1bn class action lawsuit against 28 separate pharmaceutical companies on behalf of Canadians who were prescribed opioids and became addicted.