Tel Aviv University urged to drop Sackler name from medical school over opioid controversy

The Sackler family is accused of misrepresenting dangers of an opioid painkiller and promoting its sale.

By Associated Press and World Israel News Staff

Physicians for Human Rights-Israel is calling on Tel Aviv University to rename its Sackler Faculty of Medicine amid allegations that the Jewish-American Sackler family, which owns Purdue Pharma, has promoted the OxyContin opioid in the United States in order to increase sales even as a deadly epidemic of opioid abuse has gripped America.

Some members of the family have been accused of directing Purdue Pharma to mislead doctors and patients about the dangers of the OxyContin opioid painkiller.

Earlier this month, demonstrators protested at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, where the Sackler family is a major donor.

The New York protest was led by a group founded by the Jewish activist and photographer Nan Goldin. It calls on museums to refuse donations from Sackler family members over its contribution to the opioid crisis.

The protesters dropped thousands of fake prescriptions for OxyContin into the museum’s main atrium that read “Sacklers lie. People die,” “Shame on Sackler” and “Take down the name.”

The museum’s Sackler Center for Arts Education was built with funding from the family.

The family has also supported the Jewish Museum in Berlin.

“I turn to you on the backdrop of the opioid crisis in the U.S. and the reports on the Sackler family’s part in its creation,” wrote Hadas Ziv, the head of public activity and ethics at Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, in a letter to Tel Aviv University President Prof. Joseph Klafter and the head of the Faculty of Medicine Prof. Ehud Grossman.

“While the faculty teaches that the most important thing is the health and life of patients, company executives, according to reports, encouraged inappropriate behavior that caused the death of people in order to increase their profits,” Ziv said.

By January 2019, 36 U.S. states had filed lawsuits against Purdue Pharma, charging deceptive marketing practices.

Massachusetts was the first state to try to hold members of the Sackler family personally responsible for contributing to the U.S. opioid epidemic.

Purdue and three executives in 2007 pleaded guilty to federal charges related to the misbranding of OxyContin and agreed to pay a total of $634.5 million in penalties.

OxyContin is a powerful, long-acting narcotic that provides relief of serious pain for up to 12 hours. Initially, Purdue Pharma contended that OxyContin, because of its time-release formulation, posed a lower threat of abuse and addiction to patients than do traditional, shorter-acting painkillers like Percocet or Vicodin.

That claim became the linchpin of the most aggressive marketing campaign ever undertaken by a pharmaceutical company for a narcotic painkiller.

In response to the call by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel to drop the Sackler name, Tel Aviv University said: “The Sackler family donated 50 years ago for the establishment of the medical school. The matter has not yet been ruled on in U.S. courts.”