Artists, Activists Protest Sackler Bankruptcy Settlement

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Nan Goldin and members of her advocacy group P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) as well as members of the anti-harm organization Truth Pharm were among those protesting the upcoming bankruptcy proceedings of Purdue Pharma in White Plains, New York, early this week. As first reported in Hyperallergic, demonstrators on August 9 convened outside the US Bankruptcy Court where Judge Robert Drain is to preside over the disgraced opioid maker’s bankruptcy case, slated to begin August 12. Planting cardboard tombstones bearing the names of those lost to the opioid epidemic in a concrete-bordered garden outside the courthouse, the protesters declared the proceedings to be a sham, sparing the members of the Sackler family affiliated with the Stamford, Connecticut–based drug maker and most of their personal wealth.

Purdue Pharma had been charged with aggressively marketing OxyContin and providing kickbacks to doctors who prescribed the powerful opioid, while downplaying its addictive qualities, resulting in rampant overprescription and an accompanying surge of related addictions and more than half a million deaths across the United States. According to the proposed settlement, which has earned the wrath of the US Justice Department, the members of the Sackler family affiliated with the drug maker will give up their interest in the company and pay roughly $4.3 billion of their personal wealth—recently estimated at some $11 billion—in compensation to individuals and communities harmed by OxyContin.These family members would then be shielded from any future lawsuits related to Purdue’s marketing of the drug. DOJ trustee William Harrington condemned the terms, under which, he noted, “victims must involuntarily ‘settle’ for what the [bankruptcy plan] disclosure statement estimates may be as little as $3,500 in compensation for a life upended due to opioids because the Sackler Family says so.”

“It’s an egregious case of injustice,” said Goldin, who founded P.A.I.N. in 2017 following her recovery from an OxyContin addiction spurred by a prescription for an injury she had sustained. “[The Sacklers’] friends, family, heirs, lawyers, everybody they know will get complete immunity. They’re walking away with most of their money.” As part of the settlement, the involved members of the Sackler family would be banned for nine years—the amount of time within which they are expected to disburse the $4.3 billion—from seeking naming rights from museums and other institutions. That clause represents a victory of sorts for Goldin and P.A.I.N, who have long and vigorously—and in many cases successfully—campaigned against the family members’ practice of using cultural philanthropy to launder their reputation.

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