Five years ago, the Sackler family was considered one of New York City’s most esteemed, generous dynasties. There’s a Sackler Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a Sackler Institute at Columbia University and a Sackler Educational Laboratory at the American Museum of Natural History. Family members were photographed in Vogue and known as staples on the benefit circuit.
The Sacklers — who made their billions creating pharmaceuticals including OxyContin — were well-liked, well-respected and well-courted.
Now they can’t get a museum to take their money.
Prescription opioids have killed more than 200,000 people since OxyContin — produced by the family’s Purdue Pharma — hit the market in 1996, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Sackler name has become synonymous with the opioid crisis. And it’s costing them their social status in NYC.
“They unfortunately symbolize all that is wrong with the epidemic. Their reputations are in the cesspool,” said a social insider.
“There is a reluctance to hobnob and socialize [with] and openly stand next to the Sacklers. They aren’t being invited to small dinners on Fifth Avenue.”
More than 2,000 lawsuits target Purdue Pharma for aggressively marketing OxyContin despite the painkiller having known addictive qualities. New York and Massachusetts lawsuits filed by the states’ attorneys general revealed Purdue’s plan, titled “Project Tango,” to roll out medicine to counter OxyContin addiction — ensuring profit on both ends of the spectrum. Connecticut, Rhode Island and Utah have also taken legal action.
‘They unfortunately symbolize all that is wrong with the epidemic. Their reputations are in the cesspool.’
Eight Sackler family members are named as defendants in the New York and Massachusetts cases, including David Sackler, 38, whose wife, Joss, is a fashion designer; and Mortimer D.A. Sackler, 47, whose wife, Jacqueline, was featured in Vogue in 2013.
A government source exclusively told The Post that the Department of Justice is also investigating the company and the Sackler family members who sit on its board.
“The company has used aggressive marketing techniques for years to push a highly addictive product. The conduct that it engaged in before 2007 was felonious conduct,” said the government source, referring to a 2007 plea deal, when Purdue Pharma’s parent company Purdue Frederick Company copped to a felony charge of misleading patients and doctors as to the drug’s addictive qualities and abuse potential. Purdue paid nearly $600 million in fines.
“What we are looking at now is, did that conduct, in some form or fashion, continue beyond that point to the present?”
The new round of scrutiny has made the Sacklers pariahs in the city they helped build with their lavish donations.
“I wouldn’t invite them to my house,” admitted one Manhattan social fixture. “I like to socialize with people who are not involved in trouble … and [who] try to improve society, not hurt it.”
Sources told The Post that the family is struggling with their fall from grace.
One insider, from whom Mortimer sought advice about the barrage of bad press, said the scion is devastated by the ostracism.
“The walls are starting to close in,” said the insider.
Mortimer and Jacqueline, 42, who have two school-age children, went from being featured in Vogue to personae non-gratae at institutions emblazoned with the family name.
“A lot of their friends are still there [for them], but there are concerns about, over time, losing reputation more than anything,” the insider said, adding that Mortimer, who sits on Purdue Pharma’s board, thinks the opioid crisis has little do with him and his family.
“They view it as not their own doing.”
But on April 1, The New York Times reported that documents cited by Massachusetts prosecutors show a 2009 e-mail from Mortimer urging an increase in opioid sales two years after Purdue’s plea deal. There’s also a 2011 e-mail in which he suggests creating a generic version of the narcotic to “capture the most cost-sensitive patients.”
Mary Jo White, an attorney for the Sackler family, told The Post that the allegations are “inaccurate and misleading” and addressed in the family’s recent motions to dismiss.
David Sackler, the grandson of co-founder Raymond and the only grandchild to sit on Purdue’s board, is also feeling the heat.
His wife, Joss — who started an invite-only $2,500-per-year NYC wine club, LBV, and a clothing line, LBV Care — lashed out after the Times reviewed her collection in February and delved into the controversy surrounding her husband’s family.
On her website, the 34-year-old wrote to the Times: “Stop talking about who the men in my life are, and review the f–king neon hoodies.” She has since deleted her rant.
“Not once have I wished to have my work be separated from my family name,” Joss said in a statement to The Post. “Our family loves . . . each other — I am proud to be a Sackler.”
At least some of David and Joss’ close friends are said to be sticking by the couple.
“They have gotten totally scapegoated, frankly, by grandstanding politicians into this whole thing,” said one friend. “Joss can’t separate herself from it and that’s a frustration.”
No doubt, the Sacklers are eager to clear their names.
Family members of original co-founders Drs. Mortimer and Raymond Sackler told The Post, “We’re grateful for the support from colleagues and friends who know us best, as they understand that recent lawsuits are about creating sensational headlines and don’t reflect the truth about how we have conducted ourselves.”
But according to author Michael Gross, the Sacklers ought to brace themselves for further backlash.
“What you are seeing now is a much less forgiving environment for bad behavior,” said Gross, author of “Rogues’ Gallery: The Secret Story of the Lust, Lies, Greed, and Betrayals That Made the Metropolitan Museum of Art.”
“The laundering of reputations through philanthropy used to be a frictionless process. Now it’s a bumpy road and sometimes even detours lead to dead ends.”
Indeed, nonprofits are steering clear of the Sacklers, despite them being worth some $13 billion, per a 2016 Forbes article.
“I wouldn’t accept donations from them,” said one top NYC philanthropist who sits on multiple museum boards. “The name is definitely sullied. And deservedly so.”
In March, London’s National Portrait Gallery refused a $1.3 million grant from the family. That month, The Wall Street Journal reported that Fifth Avenue hedge fund Hildene Capital Management had axed the Sacklers as clients due to an opioid-related tragedy that befell someone close to Hildene.
“The weight on my conscience led me to terminate the relationship,” Hildene fund manager Brett Jefferson told the paper.
London’s Tate museums announced they would no longer take donations from the Sacklers.
The Guggenheim, which had received $9 million of the family’s money, declared they would no longer accept future gifts, despite Mortimer being a former board member. (He stepped down last year because he was “overextended,” his spokesperson told the New York Times in April.)
Even family members are distancing themselves from one another.
Elizabeth Sackler, benefactor of her namesake Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum, called her family’s role in the opioid epidemic “morally abhorrent” in a January 2019 statement.
Purdue Pharma was purchased in 1952 by Elizabeth’s father, Arthur, and his two brothers, Raymond and Mortimer Sackler. They relocated the business from Greenwich Village to Yonkers (its headquarters are now in Stamford, Conn.). As the brothers’ fortunes grew, so did their families. Arthur has four children; Mortimer, seven; Raymond, two. The three brothers are deceased.
Elizabeth’s statement made clear that her father, who earned a pretty penny marketing tranquilizers in the 1960s via his advertising agency, sold his Purdue stake to his brothers and died before the creation of OxyContin.
“None of [Arthur’s] descendants have ever owned a share of Purdue stock nor benefitted in any way from it or the sale of OxyContin,” said Elizabeth, who has not been named in any lawsuits.
Now, Sackler attorney White told The Post, the family wants to pursue a global opioids settlement for the pending lawsuits.
“Although the allegations about them are inaccurate and they have no legal liability, they are responding very constructively to the litigations and seeking a global resolution that would have settlement monies going to addressing the problem,” White said. “They, like all of us should, feel a social responsibility to try to address this public-health crisis.”
The Sackler family added: “Our family has always been committed to supporting initiatives that save lives by preventing abuse of prescription medicines and treating addiction, and we are united in seeking a fair resolution . . . that addresses these urgent needs.”
It’s a move in the right direction, according to society publicist R. Couri Hay.
“They are so rich and powerful, they are bound to make a comeback,” he said. “Right now that money has brown seared burnt edges and no one wants it. [But] no one is willing to say no to that check once that money becomes green again.”
After all, scoffs one NYC socialite, it’s not as though the Sacklers are the Madoffs.
“[Bernie] Madoff took people’s money. I don’t think people think some drugged-out kid who died of heroin impacts them,” said the socialite. “What are they going to be fined? Two billion dollars? Five billion? Ten billion? They are still going to be f–king rich and in New York, that’s what people care about.”
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