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Oxford will not reconsider Sackler donations despite opioid link

A £1 million donation from the Sacklers to the National Portrait Gallery has been held up in internal review

Oxford University has confirmed that it will not reconsider donations from the Sackler family, despite their involvement in the production of an addictive opioid.

The family’s pharmaceutical company, Purdue Pharma, produces the opioid OxyContin. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say 200,000 people have died as a result of taking OxyContin and other related prescription opioids.

The University’s response follows the news that a £1 million donation from the Sacklers to the National Portrait Gallery has been held up in internal review.

Only three other institutions — the V&A, the Royal Court Theatre, and the National Maritime Museum — have explicitly said they would consider future donations, according to the Evening Standard.

A University of Oxford spokesperson told Cherwell: “The Committee [to review donations] considers the sources of an individual’s or organisation’s wealth and may reconsider a donor in the light of new information.

“At present, there is no intention for the Committee to reconsider the Sackler family and trusts.”

In 2006, Purdue Pharma, owned by the Sacklers, pleaded guilty in US federal court to marketing OxyContin with “the intent to defraud or mislead.”

The company allegedly told doctors that its drug OxyContin had minimal addictive effects.

One third-year medical student told Cherwell: “I’m disgusted by the behaviour of Purdue Pharma…Oxford should distance itself fully from them.

“Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family that run it are guilty of falsifying evidence. This is never acceptable in science, but is particularly pernicious when done in medicine.

“The New England Journal of Medicine holds their pushing of OxyContin responsible for the majority of heroin addictions in the United States. Thousands of lives have been destroyed by their behaviour and Oxford University should eschew their blood money.”

A spokesperson for Oxford SU told Cherwell: “Oxford SU believes that the university should not accept money from sources that the student body disapprove of.”

Since 1991, Oxford has received over £11 million in donations from the Sackler trusts and family. Donations have gone towards building the Bodleian Sackler Library and funding the Sackler Keeper of Antiquities at the Ashmolean. Contributions from the Sacklers also make up part of the museum’s endowment.

Outside the humanities, the Sacklers also support a University lecturer and a Teaching fellowship in Earth Sciences, whilst projects in paediatrics and neuroscience have been facilitated through the family’s contributions.

Oxford academics also participate in partnerships established by the family, such as the Raymond and Beverly Sackler US-UK Scientific Forum.

A first year medical student told Cherwell: “As far as I’m concerned the important medical advances that the money allows are the most important factor.

“From the University’s point of view, you just need to get enough funding to allow them to carry out their vital research.”

A spokesperson for Purdue Pharma told Cherwell: “Many leading medical, scientific, cultural and educational institutions throughout the world have been beneficiaries of Sackler family philanthropy for nearly seven decades, including long before OxyContin was approved by FDA in December 1995.

“Since that approval, OxyContin has been and continues to be appropriately prescribed by doctors to bring needed relief to thousands suffering from severe pain, including those with cancer and terminal illnesses.”

The Sackler Trusts and family have also been contacted for comment.

(This article was updated on 2 April (15:00BST) to include Purdue Pharma’s response)

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