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UK organisations still taking millions from Sackler family as museums rush to cut ties over opioid crisis

King’s College London accepted £750,000 from the family accused of fuelling the US opioid epidemic

King's College London accepted a £750,000 donation from the family. Image: Tom Haynes

The Sackler family donated over £13million in the UK in 2021, despite a number of cultural institutions removing their name and refusing cash over their role in the US opioid crisis.

Two UK charities run by the family, who this year agreed to pay up to $6bn to settle lawsuits alleging they fuelled the US opioid crisis, made donations to King’s College London, as well as CW+ – the charitable arm of Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, and two homeless charities.

King’s College received £750,000, listed as “further support” in the Dr Mortimer and Theresa Sackler Foundation’s most recent accounts, following a £250,000 donation from the Sackler Trust in 2020.

The university told The Big Issue that the donation was a “final extension of existing funding to support ongoing work to understand neurodevelopmental disorder” and that it had no plans to apply for further funding from the Sackler family.

CW+ received £250,000 from the family, who are known as much for philanthropy as their role in the pharmaceutical industry. Sophie Sackler Dalrymple, daughter of Mortimer and Theresa Sackler, sits on the development board of CW+ as well as serving as a director for both Sackler charities.

“The Sackler Trust is a longstanding supporter of Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, a relationship arising from personal family connections to the hospital,” a spokesperson for CW+ said.

“The donation funded the digital platform of our Best For You programme, which provides comprehensive online resources for young people in need of mental health support.”

The spokesperson added the gift had been reviewed following formal guidelines weighing up “strategic, financial, legal, ethical and reputational issues of concern against the potential benefit to our patient community”.

A number of other institutions – including Berkshire’s Windmill Theatre and the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra Trust – did not receive money in 2021 after getting donations in 2020.

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Purdue Pharma, owned by the Sacklers, developed and marketed OxyContin. In March, the family agreed to pay up to $6bn to settle lawsuits alleging they had driven the opioid crisis, which has claimed almost 500,000 lives. The controversy was the subject of the Emmy-award winning TV series Dopesick.

In a statement released at the time, the family said: “While the families have acted lawfully in all respects, they sincerely regret that OxyContin, a prescription medicine that continues to help people suffering from chronic pain, unexpectedly became part of an opioid crisis that has brought grief and loss to far too many families and communities.”

The continued donations come as cultural institutions in the UK refuse donations and distance themselves from the family, and after the Sackler Trust said in 2019 it was pausing donations.

In October the V&A Museum removed signage to the “Sackler Courtyard” and the “Sackler Centre for Arts Education” after protests, while the Design Museum removed the Sackler name from its library and Shakespeare’s Globe renamed its Sackler Studios.

Activists led by renowned photographer Nan Goldin, who herself was addicted to OxyContin, have led protests against the Sacklers in the UK and US, targeting institutions who have received funding from the family. The group, P.A.I.N, dropped thousands of fake prescriptions into the atrium of New York’s Guggenheim Museum and filled a moat in the Metropolitan Museum with fake pill bottles.

Protesters staged a “die-in” at the V&A in 2019 and held a banner demanding the museum “abandon the Sackler name”.

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Earlier this year the National Portrait Gallery and the Tate both announced they would be dropping the Sackler name after previously saying they would stop accepting donations from the Sacklers.

A plaque with the Sackler name was also removed from an award-winning bridge at Kew Gardens, and in 2021 the Serpentine Sackler Gallery became the Serpentine North Gallery.

The Sackler Institute at King’s College is one of the few institutions to keep the Sackler name, along with the Sackler Space at London’s Roundhouse and Oxford University’s Sackler Library.

The Sackler Trust made total donations of £11.5m in 2021, including “new contributions” of £1.3m.

The Dr Mortimer and Theresa Sackler Foundation made total donations of £1.7m, including “new contributions” of £936,300.

Both organisations are run by members of the Sackler family and registered to the same accountant’s address in London.

The Sackler Trust did not respond to a request for comment.

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