Who are the Sacklers, the family behind maker of OxyContin?
For a family with its name on a wing of one of the world’s most famous museums and a school at a prestigious university, members of the Sackler clan have done a remarkable job of vanishing from public life.
The family owns OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, which filed for bankruptcy this week as part of an effort to settle some 2,600 lawsuits accusing it of helping spark the national opioid crisis that has killed more than 400,000 people in the U.S. in the last two decades.
Any settlement deal is likely to take a cut of their future income, and some states have sought to go after the Sacklers’ wealth, much of which has moved through a complex chain of companies and trusts in offshore tax havens. In a filing Wednesday, Purdue asked a bankruptcy court to halt all litigation against family members as well as the company.
The relatives have rarely spoken publicly in recent years and did not show up to the first bankruptcy hearing this week, in White Plains, New York. Here are some basic facts about the family:
Brothers Mortimer, Raymond and Arthur Sackler — all physicians — bought the drug company known as Purdue Frederick in 1952. They are all dead, but their widows, children and grandchildren now own the company, along with an international drug company, Mundipharma.
Purdue is privately held, and its board has been mainly controlled by Sackler heirs over the years, until legal issues began piling up in the last year. No family members are currently on the board.
In court filings, lawyers for family members have argued that their clients, serving as company directors, were not heavily involved in day-to-day decisions at the company.
In 2016, Forbes magazine listed the Sacklers as one of the 20 wealthiest families in the U.S. and tallied their holdings at $13 billion.
For decades, the family members have been major philanthropic donors. In the 1970s, they underwrote the Metropolitan Museum of Art wing that houses an ancient Egyptian temple and bears the Sackler name.
This year, institutions including the Met, Britain’s Tate museums, New York’s Guggenheim and Tufts University, where the graduate school of biomedical sciences also bears the family’s name, have announced they will stop taking gifts from the family or re-evaluate the relationship. The Louvre Museum in Paris took the Sackler name off a wing.
In legal filings, states have contended that the heirs of Mortimer and Raymond Sackler have accepted payments of at least $4 billion over the last dozen years.
Arizona’s attorney general has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to force the family to return some money to Purdue so it could be fair game in lawsuits against the company. New York’s attorney general has requested financial records of entities connected to the family to try to trace the money. Her office said in a legal filing this month that it found $1 billion transferred to the family through Swiss banks and other secret accounts.
The major exception to the Sackler family’s silence in recent years came when Richard Sackler’s son David and David’s wife, Joss, both in their 30s, both gave interviews for magazine profiles published earlier this year.
Joss Sackler has a doctorate in linguistics, serves as a rock climbing guide and has a fashion line. In a Town & Country interview, she expressed frustration with media attention on her connection to the Sacklers rather than her own work. More recently, she feuded about OxyContin with rock star Courtney Love, who said in an Instagram post this month directed at Joss Sackler, “Your. People. Killed. My. People.”
David Sackler, a Princeton University graduate who runs a family investment firm, made headlines last year when it was reported that he had paid $22.5 million in cash for a mansion in Los Angeles’ Bel Air neighborhood. He told Vanity Fair that the family has been vilified in part because family members have not told their story publicly.
“We have not done a good job of talking about this,” he said. “That’s what I regret the most.”