Sackler family

The Sackler family is an American family, best known for being at the center of the opioid crisis and for founding and owning the pharmaceutical companies Purdue Pharma and Mundipharma.[1] Purdue Pharma, and by extension some members of the family, have faced criticism and lawsuits regarding overprescription of addictive pharmaceutical drugs, including OxyContin, and Purdue Pharma's role in the opioid epidemic in the United States.[2][3][4]

The Sackler family has been profiled in various media, including the documentary Crime of the Century on HBO and in the book Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe.


The Sackler family are descendants of Isaac Sackler and his wife Sophie (née Greenberg), Jewish immigrants to the United States from Galicia (now Ukraine) and Poland,[citation needed] who established a grocery business in Brooklyn. The couple had three sons, Arthur, Mortimer, and Raymond Sackler who all went to medical school and became psychiatrists. They were often cited as early pioneers in medication techniques which ended the common practice of lobotomies, and were also regarded as the first to fight for the racial integration of blood banks.[5] In 1952, the brothers bought a small pharmaceutical company, Purdue-Frederick.[6] Raymond and Mortimer ran Purdue, while Arthur, the oldest brother, became a pioneer in medical advertising and one of the foremost art collectors of his generation. He also donated the majority of his collections to museums around the world. After his death in 1987, his option on one third of that company was sold by his estate to his two brothers who turned it into Purdue Pharma.[7]

In 1996, Purdue Pharma introduced OxyContin, a version of oxycodone reformulated in a slow-release form. Heavily promoted,[8][9] oxycodone is seen as a key drug in the emergence of the opioid epidemic.[10][11] Elizabeth Sackler, daughter of Arthur Sackler, claimed that her branch of the family did not participate in or benefit from the sales of narcotics. While some have criticized Arthur Sackler for pioneering marketing techniques to promote non-opioids decades earlier, Professor Evan Gertsman said in Forbes magazine, "It is an absurd inversion of logic to say that because Arthur Sackler pioneered direct marketing to physicians, he is responsible for the fraudulent misuse of that technique, which occurred many years after his death and from which he procured no financial gain."[12][13][14] In 2018, multiple members of the Raymond and Mortimer Sackler families, Richard Sackler, Theresa Sackler, Kathe Sackler, Jonathan Sackler, Mortimer Sackler, Beverly Sackler, David Sackler, and Ilene Sackler, were all named as defendants in suits filed by numerous states over their involvement in the opioid crisis.[15][16]

The family was first listed in Forbes list of America's Richest Families in 2015.[17]

The Sackler family is also the owner of Mundipharma, a more low profile pharma company that has significant operations in China. Bloomberg News reported in 2020 that the family had hired an investment bank to identify a potential buyer of the business.[18] The company could fetch as much as $3 to $5 billion.[19]


  • Isaac Sackler and Sophie Greenberg
    • Arthur Sackler, (1913–1987),[20] married Else Finnich Jorgensen 1934 and divorced,[21][8] married Marietta Lutze 1949 and divorced, and Jillian Lesley Tully 1981 until death
    • Mortimer Sackler (1916–2010) obtained British citizenship and renounced American citizenship.[22] Married Theresa Elizabeth Rowling (born 1949) in 1980 until his death, married Gertraud (Gheri) Wimmer in 1969 and divorced,[23] married Muriel Lazarus (1917–2009) and divorced.[24]
      • Ilene Sackler Lefcourt (married Gerald B. Lefcourt and divorced)
      • Kathe Sackler (spouse Susan Shack Sackler)
      • Robert Mortimer Sackler (d. 1975)
      • Mortimer A. Sackler (married Jaqueline Sackler)
      • Samantha Sophia Sackler Hunt[8]
      • Marissa Sackler
      • Sophie Sackler (married Jamie Dalrymple)
      • Michael Sackler[8]
    • Raymond Sackler (1920–2017), married Beverly Feldman in 1944 until death[8] Beverly died in October 2019, aged 95[25]


The Sackler family has donated to cultural institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the American Museum of Natural History; the Guggenheim; the Smithsonian; the Jewish Museum (Manhattan); the Tate Gallery; the National Gallery; the Natural History Museum, London; the Victoria and Albert Museum; the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; the British Museum; Shakespeare's Globe; the Serpentine Galleries; and the Louvre.[26][27]

The family has also donated to universities, including Harvard University, Yale University, the University of Oxford, the University of Cambridge, Columbia University, Tufts University, New York University, the Royal College of Art, the University of Sussex, and the University of Edinburgh.[17][26] The Sackler Faculty of Medicine at Tel Aviv University is named after Arthur, Mortimer, and Raymond Sackler for their donations. Similarly, the Sackler Institute of Pulmonary Pharmacology at King's College London was named after Mortimer and Theresa Sackler.[28][29][30]

"Reputation laundering"Edit

The Sackler family name, as used in institutions which the family have donated to, saw increased scrutiny in the late 2010s over the family's association with OxyContin. David Crow, writing in the Financial Times, described the family name as "tainted" (cf. Tainted donors).[31][32] In March 2019, the National Portrait Gallery and the Tate galleries announced that they would not accept further donations from the family. This came after the American photographer Nan Goldin threatened to withdraw a planned retrospective of her work in the National Portrait Gallery if the gallery accepted a £1 million donation from a Sackler fund.[33][34] In June 2019, NYU Langone Medical Center announced they will no longer be accepting donations from the Sacklers, and have since changed the name of the Sackler Institute of Graduate Biomedical Sciences to the Vilcek Institute of Graduate Biomedical Sciences.[35] Later in 2019, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, each announced they will not accept future donations from any Sacklers that were involved in Purdue Pharma.[36]

On July 1, 2019, Nan Goldin, an American photographer and the founder of P.A.I.N.,[37] led a small groups of protesters who unfurled a banner "Take down the Sackler name" against the backdrop of the Louvre's glass pyramid.[37][38][39][40][41] According to The New York Times, the Louvre in Paris was the first major museum to "erase its public association" with the Sackler family name. On July 16, 2019, the museum had removed the plaque at the gallery entrance about Sacklers’ donations made to the museum. Throughout the gallery, grey tape covered signs such as Sackler Wing, including signage for the Louvre's Persian and Levantine artifacts collection, which was removed on July 8 or 9. Signage for the collection had identified it as the Sackler Wing of Oriental Antiquities since 1997.[42]

The family's philanthropy has been characterized as "reputation laundering" from profits acquired from the selling of opiates.[43][44]

Opioid lawsuitsEdit

In 2019, a suit was brought in the Southern District of New York, which included more than 500 counties, cities and Native American tribes. It named eight family members: Richard, Jonathan, Mortimer, Kathe, David, Beverly and Theresa Sackler as well as Ilene Sackler Lefcourt.[45] In addition, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Utah all brought suits against the family. On the federal level, the family faced an overall bundle of 1,600 cases.[46]

According to the New Yorker, Purdue Pharma played a "special role" in the opioid crisis because the company "was the first to set out, in the nineteen-nineties, to persuade the American medical establishment that strong opioids should be much more widely prescribed—and that physicians’ longstanding fears about the addictive nature of such drugs were overblown."[47]

In March 2021, Purdue Pharma filed a restructuring plan to dissolve itself and establish a new company dedicated to programs designed to combat the opioid crisis, according to court documents filed on 15 March 2021.[48] As part of the proposed plan, the Sackler family would agree to pay an additional US$4.2 billion over the next nine years to resolve various civil claims.[48] However, this would amount to a "legal firewall" that would protect the Sackler family, such as making them immune from criminal prosecutions. It was thus opposed by 24 state attorneys general as well as the attorney general for Washington, D.C. "If the Sacklers are allowed to use bankruptcy to escape the consequences of their actions," said the state AGs who called the proposal legally unprecedented, "it would be a roadmap for other powerful bad actors."[49]

On July 8, 2021, multiple states seemed ready to settle with Purdue Pharma not admitting to any wrongdoings and the Sackler family agreeing never to produce opioids again and paying 4.5 billion dollar in damages toward a charitable fund with cash and assets.[50]

On August 8, 2021, on his show Last Week Tonight, comedian John Oliver presented[51] a main segment on the Sacklers and their legal dealings with opioid lawsuits. In the segment, the makers of the show accuse the family of taking out billions of dollars from the company to secure it against future claims and trying to get a so-called 'non-consensual third party release' as part of the Purdue bankruptcy settle to give many members of the Sackler family immunity from personal liability in any present and future lawsuits against Purdue Pharma regarding the opioid crisis.


  1. ^ Wu, Kane (2021-05-05). "Sackler-owned Mundipharma seeks bids for China unit in over $1 billion deal -sources". Reuters. Retrieved 2021-05-17.
  2. ^ Ellis, Ralph; Schuman, Melanie (March 24, 2019). "Hundreds of cities, counties and Native American tribes file federal lawsuit against Sackler family over opioid crisis". CNN. Retrieved March 25, 2019.
  3. ^ Perraudin, Frances. "Sackler Trust halts new philanthropic giving due to opioid lawsuits". The Guardian.
  4. ^ "Who are the Sacklers, the family at the center of the opioid crisis?". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. 2019-05-22. Retrieved 2019-06-02.
  5. ^ Gerstmann, Evan (May 10, 2019). "Harvard, Arthur Sackler And The Perils Of Indiscriminate Shaming". Forbes.
  6. ^ "Who are the Sacklers, the family at the center of the opioid crisis?". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. 2020-02-22. Retrieved 2019-06-02.
  7. ^ "Our Incomplete List of Cultural Institutions and Initiatives Funded by the Sackler Family". Hyperallergic. 2018-01-11. Retrieved 2018-03-19.
  8. ^ a b c d e Joanna Walters (February 18, 2018). "Meet the Sacklers: the family feuding over blame for the opioid crisis". The Guardian. Retrieved February 19, 2019.
  9. ^ Barry Meyer (May 10, 2007). "In Guilty Plea, OxyContin Maker to Pay 600 Million". New York Times. Retrieved February 21, 2019.
  10. ^ a b Christopher Glazek (October 16, 2017). "The Secretive Family Making Billions From the Opioid Crisis". Esquire. Retrieved February 21, 2019.
  11. ^ Keefe, Patrick Radden (October 23, 2017). "The Family That Built an Empire of Pain". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved February 21, 2019.
  12. ^ "Forbes".
  13. ^ "Nan Goldin Receives Elizabeth A. Sackler's Support in Condemning Purdue Pharma". Artforum ( January 23, 2018. and Sackler, Elizabeth A. (February 1, 2018). "Growing P.A.I.N." Artforum ( Retrieved May 10, 2019.
  14. ^ "Sackler scion backs photog's campaign against OxyContin". Page Six. January 18, 2018. Retrieved February 21, 2018.
  15. ^ Dwyer, Colin. "Massachusetts Sues OxyContin Maker Purdue Pharma, Saying It 'Peddled Falsehoods'". NPR. Retrieved January 16, 2019.
  16. ^ Christine, Willmsen; Martha, Bebinger. "Massachusetts Attorney General Implicates Family Behind Purdue Pharma In Opioid Deaths". NPR.
  17. ^ a b Alex Morrell (July 1, 2015). "The OxyContin Clan: The $14 Billion Newcomer to Forbes 2015 List of Richest U.S. Families". Forbes. Retrieved February 21, 2019.
  18. ^ Baigorri, Manuel (January 13, 2020). "Sackler-Owned Mundipharma Taps Deutsche Bank for Sale".
  19. ^ Wu, Kane (2021-05-05). "Sackler-owned Mundipharma seeks bids for China unit in over $1 billion deal -sources". Reuters. Retrieved 2021-05-17.
  20. ^ Glueck, Grace (1987-05-27). "Dr. Arthur Sackler Dies at 73; Philanthropist and Art Patron". The New York Times. Retrieved 2014-05-11.
  21. ^ "Paid Notice: Deaths SACKLER, ELSE". The New York Times. March 17, 2000.
  22. ^ David Cohen (May 11, 2018). "The Sackler Files: Billionaire liked to parade as philanthropist... in fact he was tax avoider on industrial scale". Evening Standard. Retrieved February 22, 2019.
  23. ^ "SACHS, FRANK thru SACHS, GEORGE".
  24. ^ Muriel L. Sackler , NYT obituary
  25. ^ Schott, Paul (October 15, 2019). "Purdue Pharma co-owner and Greenwich resident Beverly Sackler dies". New Haven Register.
  26. ^ a b Goukassian, Elena (11 January 2018). "Our Incomplete List of Cultural Institutions and Initiatives Funded by the Sackler Family". Hyperallergic. Retrieved 26 March 2019.
  27. ^ "Annual Campaign 2016". The Jewish Museum. Retrieved May 10, 2019.
  28. ^ "New Sackler Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences". 13 February 2002. Archived from the original on 2 October 2015.
  29. ^ Cohen, David (March 19, 2018). "The Opioid Timebomb: The Sackler family and how their painkiller fortune helps bankroll London arts". Evening Standard. Retrieved May 10, 2019.
  30. ^
  31. ^ David Crow (September 8, 2018). "What next for the Sacklers? A pharma dynasty under siege". Financial Times. Retrieved February 24, 2019.
  32. ^ David Armstrong (February 21, 2019). "Sackler Embraced Plan to Conceal OxyContin's Strength From Doctors, Sealed Testimony Shows". ProPublica. Retrieved February 27, 2019.
  33. ^ "Tate art galleries will no longer accept donations from the Sackler family". Guardian. 22 March 2019. Retrieved 22 March 2019.
  34. ^ Walters, Joanna. "Nan Goldin threatens London gallery boycott over £1m gift from Sackler fund". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 March 2019.
  35. ^ Youn, Soo. "NYU Langone no longer accepting donations from the Sacklers, the family that owns OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma". ABC News. Retrieved 19 December 2019.
  36. ^ Harris, Elizabeth A. (May 15, 2019). "The Met Will Turn Down Sackler Money Amid Fury Over the Opioid Crisis". The New York Times. Retrieved May 17, 2019.
  37. ^ a b Walters, Joanna (2018-01-22). "'I don't know how they live with themselves' – artist Nan Goldin takes on the billionaire family behind OxyContin". The Guardian. Retrieved 2018-01-22.
  38. ^ Walters, Joanna (22 March 2019). "Tate art galleries will no longer accept donations from the Sackler family". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-03-24 – via
  39. ^ Goldin, Nan. "Nan Goldin". Art Forum. Archived from the original on 2018-01-03. Retrieved 2018-01-22.
  40. ^ Walters, Joanna; Thorpe, Vanessa (17 February 2019). "Nan Goldin threatens London gallery boycott over £1m gift from Sackler fund". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 February 2019.
  41. ^ In 2018, Goldin went public with her rehabilitation process to overcome her opioid addiction. Goldin was prescribed OxyContin after breaking her wrist. Goldin established Prescription Addiction Intervention Now (P.A.I.N.) through which she used social media activism to contrast the Sackler family's cultural philanthropy with their role in inflamming the opioid crisis as owners and managers of Purdue Pharma who manufactured and marketed OxyContin. P.A.I.N. also protested that the Sackler family have never taken responsibility for their role in the opioid crisis. Previous P.A.I.N protests took place in Sackler Wing's Temple of Dendur at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2018, at the Guggenheim Museum in 2019. In February 2019, Goldin issued a statement saying she no longer would participate in the planned retrospective of her photography, which was to be exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery in London if the Tate did not refuse the Sacklers most recent donation of £1 million.
  42. ^ Marshall, Alex (July 17, 2019). "Louvre Removes Sackler Family Name From Its Walls". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved July 17, 2019.
  43. ^ "New Yorker Sackler Article". 23 October 2017. Retrieved 2018-10-17.
  44. ^ "Sackler Blood Money disgraces museums". 16 February 2018. Retrieved 2018-10-17.
  45. ^ "New York Sues Sackler Family Members and Drug Distributors", New York Times, March 28, 2019.
  46. ^ "Lawsuits Lay Bare Sackler Family's Role in Opioid Crisis", New York Times, April 1, 2019.
  47. ^ Keefe, Patrick Radden (4 October 2020). "The Sackler Family's Plan to Keep Its Billions". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2020-10-04.
  48. ^ a b Maruf, Laura Ly and Ramishah (2021-03-16). "Sackler family agrees to pay US$4.2 billion as part of plan to dissolve OxyContin maker Purdue". CTVNews. Retrieved 2021-03-16.
  49. ^ Brian Mann (May 3, 2021). "24 States Mount Legal Fight To Block Sackler Bid For Opioid Immunity". NPR. Retrieved May 7, 2021.
  50. ^ "Multiple states agree to $4.5B deal with Sackler family in Purdue Pharma opioid lawsuit". CBS. July 8, 2021. Retrieved August 16, 2021.
  51. ^ "Opioids III: The Sacklers". Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Season 8. 2021-08-08. HBO. Retrieved 2021-08-08.

Further readingEdit

  • Patrick Radden Keefe (2021). Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty. Doubleday. ISBN 978-0385545686.

External linksEdit