Drug overdoses killed 700,000 people in the United States between 1999 and 2017, and more than two-thirds of those deaths were the result of opioids. Last week, the state of Oklahoma won a landmark $270 million settlement against one of the world’s largest manufacturers of prescription opioids, Purdue Pharma, owned by the Sackler family.
While the Sackler name doesn’t appear on Purdue’s pill bottles, it does adorn many prestigious museums and academic buildings around the world. Aggressive marketing of Purdue’s products, including its signature addictive drug, OxyContin, made billions of dollars for the Sacklers, some of which they gave to places like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Guggenheim Museum in New York, and the Tate museums in London.
Now, the tide is turning, thanks in part to legal action like the one in Oklahoma – the lawsuits against Purdue and the Sacklers now number close to 2,000 – and creative protest campaigns at some of the museums that the Sacklers have funded.
Meanwhile, the opioid epidemic has continued to grow, expanding from prescription opioids like OxyContin to include heroin and now fentanyl. The epidemic knows no boundaries, affecting people across class and race lines. But, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes, two of the leading risk factors for becoming addicted to opioids, and potentially dying of an overdose, are living in a rural area and being poor. Native American reservations in the United States meet both criteria. It is no surprise the opioid epidemic has hit indigenous populations especially hard.