‘I’m Anxious for It to Go to the Supreme Court’: Why Nan Goldin Thinks the Latest Lawsuit Against the Sacklers Could Be the Biggest Yet

The lawsuit alleges that Purdue Pharma's owners hid billions of dollars to avoid paying opioid victims' claims.

US Supreme Court in Washington, DC. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images.

In an unusual move, Arizona is filing a lawsuit in the US Supreme Court, alleging that members of the Sackler family “siphoned” billions of dollars from their own company, Purdue Pharma. The states lawyers’ accuse the owners of attempting to hide the money to avoid paying opioid victims’ claims.

The Arizona state lawsuit claims that Purdue transferred more than $4 billion to Sackler family members between 2008 and 2016. “We want the Supreme Court to make sure that we hold accountable those individuals who are responsible for this epidemic,” Mark Brnovich, Arizona’s attorney general, told the New York Times. “We allege that the Sacklers have siphoned billions of dollars from Purdue in recent years. They did this while knowing the company was facing massive financial liabilities.” The aggressive marketing of Purdue’s prescription painkiller OxyContin has been blamed for fueling America’s opioid epidemic.

“We’re very gratified to hear this,” the artist and opioid-crisis activist Nan Goldin tells artnet News. “I am anxious for it to go to the Supreme Court, and hope it won’t be thrown out.” She calls it a test case that could set an important precedent for all the other ongoing lawsuits. “As a group, we support the clawing back of the Sackler fortune.” Goldin says, referring to the group she co-founded, P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now).

The Sacklers and Purdue Pharma “need to be held responsible, and the money needs to be divided as compensation to the people who suffered,” she says.

A Long Shot

Mark Brnovich admits that getting the Supreme Court to agree to take the case is a bit of a “long shot.” Lawsuits making similar claims against the Sacklers have been brought to several state courts, including in New York and Massachusetts, but not filed directly to the Supreme Court. “It’s a little different. It’s a little unorthodox. Sometimes you’ve just got to throw deep,” he told the New York Times.

The opioid crisis has contributed to hundreds of thousands of deaths in the past two decades and cost the US economy more than $78 billion annually, the Arizona lawyers claim in their lawsuit. They write that Purdue has earned more than $30 billion from sales of OxyContin. “The state brings this action because it has evidence that the Sacklers, Purdue, and other defendants were parties in recent years to massive cash transfers—totaling billions of dollars—at a time when Purdue faced enormous exposure for its role in fueling the opioids crisis,” the Arizona state lawyers argue, according to CNN. They hope the US Supreme Court will block further transfers.

“The Unites States Supreme Court is an improper forum to conduct a trial of the claims being made by Arizona. This petition was filed solely for the purpose of leapfrogging other similar lawsuits, and we expect the Court will see it as such,” Purdue Pharma told artnet News. A spokesman for members of the Sackler family told the New York Times that the accusations are “inconsistent with the factual record” and that the family “will vigorously defend against them.”

Nan Goldin at the P.A.I.N. table, at the Protest Factory, Downtown for Democracy, at Deitch Projects, 2018. Photo: Stan Narten.

Nan Goldin’s Campaign

Earlier this summer, Goldin and P.A.I.N. staged a sudden action at the Louvre in Paris to demand it remove the family name from one of its wings. “While Purdue is going bankrupt in America, they are promoting their drugs worldwide with their international arm, Mundi Pharma,” Goldin says. Some weeks later, the museum quietly removed the Sackler name, claiming that the funding agreement had expired.

Previously, the activists have staged similar “die-ins” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, as well as at the Freer-Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, UK institutions including the Met, the Tate, and the National Portrait Gallery in London have publicly stated they would not accept further donations from the Sackler foundations that are link to profits from the opioid drug. The South London Gallery was the first to turn down a donation.


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