One of Oxford University’s largest donors are facing mass litigation and probable criminal investigations into their role in the ongoing American opioid crisis.
Suffolk County of Long Island, New York, sued the Sackler family last month over the number of overdose deaths and painkiller addictions in the community. The legal action is expected to trigger further cases against the family across the US.
The Sacklers are the 20th richest family in America at an estimated collective worth of $14 billion. The majority of their fortune comes from their pharmaceutical company, Purdue Pharma, which is responsible for the making and prescribing of prescription painkiller and narcotic OxyContin.
Purdue Pharma is currently facing legal action from at least 30 states in state court, with the first trial expected to be held next spring.
OxyContin is a highly addictive opioid, and its production and distribution is widely regarded as partly responsible for the ongoing opioid epidemic in the US, which is estimated to kill almost 200 people every day.
Prosecutors in Connecticut and New York are also understood to be debating bringing criminal fraud and racketeering charges against the family over the alleged manner in which the drug has been dangerously overprescribed and deceptively marketed to doctors, with Purdue Pharma reportedly telling doctors that the drug had minimal addictive effects.
In 2006, the company pled guilty in federal court to marketing OxyContin with “the intent to defraud or mislead.”
Since 1991, Oxford has received over £11 million in donations from the Sackler family and their trusts.
The Sacklers’ donations have contributed towards building the Bodleian Sackler Library and funding the Sackler Keeper of Antiquities at the Ashmolean. Donations from the Sacklers also make up part of the museum’s endowment.
The family’s contributions have also supported a University Lecturer and a Teaching Fellowship in Earth Sciences, as well as Paediatric and neuroscience projects. Oxford academics additionally participate in partnerships established by the family, including the Raymond and Beverly Sackler US-UK Scientific Forum.
When contacted for comment, a University spokesperson refused to comment on specific cases, though told Cherwell: “All major prospective donors to the University of Oxford are carefully considered by the University’s Committee to Review Donations under our guidelines for acceptance.
“The University monitors significant developments in the public domain and may reconsider a donor in the light of new information.”
Earlier this year, the University confirmed that they would continue receiving donations from the family despite their manufacturing of the opioid, telling Cherwell: “At present, there is no intention for the Committee to reconsider the Sackler family and trusts.”
The New York lawyer representing Suffolk County called the Sacklers “essentially a crime family … drug dealers in nice suits and dresses.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that over 72,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2016 – a 10% increase on the year before, which the organisation believes was driven by the ongoing opioid crisis. Opioid addiction kills more Americans than gun violence every year.
The Sackler family have been contacted for comment.