Metropolitan Museum of Art dropping Sackler name from galleries amid opioid crisis

The Sackler family name, synonymous among many with the opioid crisis, will no longer appear on dedicated galleries within the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The iconic art institution and descendants of the Sackler family announced the name removal in a statement released Thursday, saying that both parties “have mutually agreed to take this action in order to allow The Met to further its core mission.”

“Our families have always strongly supported The Met, and we believe this to be in the best interest of the Museum and the important mission that it serves,” said the descendants of Dr. Mortimer and Raymond Sackler. “The earliest of these gifts were made almost 50 years ago, and now we are passing the torch to others who might wish to step forward to support the Museum.”

One of the nation’s wealthiest families, the Sacklers gained their fortune, in part, through Purdue Pharma, the company which, in 1996, released Oxycontin, an enhanced version of the painkiller oxycodone. The proliferation of Oxycontin and other painkillers has been blamed as spurring the national opioid crisis.

Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family made billions of dollars over the last two and a half decades from Oxycontin sales, but they both became the subject of numerous lawsuits alleging that Purdue continued to push sales of the drug despite its addictive nature. Purdue Pharma was twice convicted of criminal wrongdoing in its marketing of Oxycontin. 

Both Purdue and the Sacklers agreed to a multi-billion dollar settlement in civil cases, which was approved by a federal judge in September as part of a bankruptcy proceeding. The agreement gave the Sackler family immunity from opioid lawsuits; they have never been charged with a crime in connection with the opioid crisis, and have maintained their innocence.

In many respects, however, the court of public opinion found the Sackler family guilty by association, and that put institutions such as The Met — the Sacklers donated enough money to have a wing named in its honor — in an awkward spot. 

Dan Weiss, president and CEO of The Met, indicated that the name change would help the museum move on and put the focus back on its works of art.

“The Met has been built by the philanthropy of generations of donors — and the Sacklers have been among our most generous supporters,” Weiss said. “This gracious gesture by the Sacklers aids the Museum in continuing to serve this and future generations. We greatly appreciate it.”