News Register for our weekly news digest here.

Nan Goldin’s P.A.I.N. Group Stages Sackler Protest in Washington, DC

More than fifty activists gathered at the Smithsonian Institution’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of Art on Thursday, April 26, to protest the opioid epidemic in America. Chanting “Shame on Sackler” and “Sackler Kills with Pills,” the protesters, many in recovery themselves, are holding brothers Arthur, Mortimer, and Raymond Sackler accountable for the opioid crisis. Even though Arthur died in 1987, before the family’s company Purdue Pharma introduced OxyContin—the powerful painkiller considered one of the most common causes of opioid addiction—the activists claim that his marketing genius paved the way for overmedication in America.

Led by photographer Nan Goldin and her group P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now), the action was the second major protest of the Sackler family’s involvement in the opioid crisis. Demonstrators previously gathered in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Temple of Dendur, in the museum’s Sackler Wing, in March.

Known as major arts patrons, the Sacklers have given money to cultural institutions across the globe, including to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Serpentine Galleries and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Goldin’s recent campaign to hold the Sacklers accountable has made arts organizations question how they vet donors. Critics of the Sacklers claim that their philanthropy is a way to shift attention away from the rise in deaths related to drug overdoses.

By organizing disruptions at the organizations that have received funding from the Sacklers, Goldin and other activists are trying to pressure the family into establishing treatment centers and running advertising campaigns that communicate clearly to America the dangers of opioid use. Goldin is also advocating for a proposed $100 billion bill, the Comprehensive Addiction Resources Emergency Care Act, that would support opioid rehabilitation and education centers. The bill was introduced to Congress by Democratic senator Elizabeth Warren and House representative Elijah Cummings last month.

In response to the protest, a spokesperson for Jillian Sackler, the widow of Arthur M. Sackler, told Artnews that “Arthur Sackler died nine years before OxyContin was introduced and had nothing to do with Purdue Pharma, and his family have not benefited from OxyContin profits.” A spokesperson for Purdue Pharma, Robert Josephson, also provided a statement, which claims that the company is “dedicated to being part of the solution,” to the Washington Post.

It reads: “Purdue’s led industry efforts to combat prescription drug abuse which includes collaborating with law enforcement, funding state prescription drug monitoring programs, and directing health care professionals to the CDC’s Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain. In addition, we’ve recently announced educational initiatives aimed at teenagers warning of the dangers of opioids and continue to fund grants to law enforcement to help with accessing naloxone.”

Goldin first wrote about her own harrowing experiences with addiction in a personal essay published in the January 2018 issue of Artforum. Since then, she has become a leader in the anti-opioid movement in America. “I’ve felt addiction in my body,” Goldin said, “and now I am speaking for those who can’t speak anymore. For me, the personal is now political.”