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‘Joy’ And ‘Fury’: Artist And Activist Nan Goldin Reacts To The Met’s Statement About Taking Opioid Money

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Evie Fordham Politics and Health Care Reporter
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  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s decision to review its gift acceptance policies after revelations about its donors, members of the opioid-profiteering Sackler family, created joy and fury in photographer and activist Nan Goldin, she told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
  • Goldin has been an outspoken critic of the Sackler family and Purdue Pharma, the company it owns, since kicking her addiction to OxyContin and other substances in 2017.
  • TheDCNF began investigating the Sackler family’s charitable donations in fall 2017 in the series “American Cartel.”

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s decision to review its gift acceptance policies after revelations about its donors, members of the opioid-profiteering Sackler family, creates joy and fury in photographer and activist Nan Goldin.

A Tuesday court filing cites documents indicating that Sackler family members pushed Purdue Pharma, the company they own, to mislead the public about the dangers of prescription opioid OxyContin. By Thursday, The Metropolitan Museum of Art told TheDCNF in a statement it was reviewing its “detailed gift acceptance policies” after taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Sacklers, including $180,000 between 2013 and 2015 alone.

“We were screaming with joy, basically, because no museum has ever responded, and The Met was our first target,” Goldin told The Daily Caller News Foundation on Friday.

After fighting her way back from a post-surgery addiction to OxyContin and an overdose on a substance that turned out to be the dangerous synthetic opioid fentanyl, Goldin’s mission is shining a spotlight on the Sacklers. She got clean in 2017 and founded Prescription Addiction Intervention Now (PAIN), motivated by the thousands of Americans who died from prescription opioid-related overdoses in 2017.

“[Forty-six] people die every day from overdoses involving prescription opioids,” according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data. “In 2017, prescription opioids continue to contribute to the epidemic in the U.S. — they were involved in more than 35% of all opioid overdose deaths.” (RELATED: We Asked The Met What They Were Planning To Do About Opioid ‘Blood Money’ Donations. Here’s What They Said)

PAIN has targeted recipients of Sackler money like The Met with demonstrations, including one during which activists littered The Met’s Sackler Wing with pill bottles and chanted “Sacklers lie, people die” in March 2018. The Met’s Sackler Wing houses the famous Egyptian Temple of Dendur. The wing was named after the Sackler family in 1974, years before OxyContin hit the markets in 1996.

PAIN’s actions haven’t gone ignored. Goldin has become a go-to in the opioid crisis discussion and was profiled by The New York Times in January 2018.

American photographer Nan Goldin speaks to journalists at the "Poste Restante" exhibition of her work at the C/O Gallery on October 9, 2009 in Berlin, Germany. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

American photographer Nan Goldin speaks to journalists at the “Poste Restante” exhibition of her work at the C/O Gallery on October 9, 2009 in Berlin, Germany. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

The ideal response from institutions like The Met is “for them to stop taking funding,” Goldin told TheDCNF.

“But the fact that they’re in discussion is huge,” she told TheDCNF. “They’re openly in discussion. I’m sure that a lot of these museums, what I know privately, is that a lot of these museums are in discussions about not taking future funding. But nobody’s said it publicly.”

Goldin felt “fury” while reading newly released emails from Richard Sackler, former president of Purdue Pharma, about his response to OxyContin overdoses and deaths.

“We have to hammer on the abusers in every way possible. They are the culprits and the problem. They are reckless criminals,” he wrote in a confidential 2001 email released in a court filing Tuesday as part of the Massachusetts attorney general’s suit against Purdue Pharma and members of the Sackler family.

Purdue Pharma said the following in response to the Massachusetts suit:

In a rush to vilify a single manufacturer whose medicines represent less than 2 percent of opioid pain prescriptions rather than doing the hard work of trying to solve a complex public health crisis, the complaint distorts critical facts and cynically conflates prescription opioid medications with illegal heroin and fentanyl, which are the leading cause of overdose deaths in Massachusetts.

The front steps and entrance to The Metropolitan Museum of Art May 19, 2014 in New York. (STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

The front steps and entrance to The Metropolitan Museum of Art May 19, 2014 in New York. (STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

“This is evil, premeditated murder. How else can it be seen? It’s not thoughtless, even. It’s premeditated murder. In all those quotes he’s saying he knows it’s abuse and let’s just blame the abusers,” Goldin told TheDCNF.

A 2017 DCNF investigation found no evidence the Sackler family was using its vast personal wealth to help recovering opioid addicts. The Sacklers were the 19th-richest family in the U.S. in 2016 with an estimated $13 billion net worth, according to Forbes. OxyContin was Purdue Pharma’s biggest revenue stream with $35 billion in sales between 1995 and 2015. (RELATED: American Cartel: Billionaire Family Behind OxyContin Apparently Spends Zilch Rehabbing Addicts)

“That’s their big thing, how much money they’ve spent on education, science, training,” Goldin told TheDCNF. “Yes, these organizations do good things, but they have to vet where their money comes from. … To me, art is kind of holy, so art institutions of all places have to have some kind of belief system, some kind of integrity. Yeah, they do good things, but it’s a tiny percentage of their money. They can get money from other places.”

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The fight is personal for Goldin, who considers The Met her favorite museum in the world. Its “review” could spark a domino effect, she said.

“I take the whole thing personally because I was so addicted to OxyContin,” she told TheDCNF. “I got addicted within 48 hours. It’s the highest amount of a narcotic in a pain medicine, so it’s like heroin in a pill … So it became my whole life, getting it, using it … I know how scary it is.”

PAIN is continuing to plan interventions at museums, and Goldin said she might have the opportunity to do a retrospective at London’s National Portrait Gallery, which has faced scrutiny over donations from the Sacklers. The National Portrait Gallery has been up in the air about accepting a $1.2 million pledge from the family since March.

“I’ve said either I’ll refuse, or I’ll do an intervention, which maybe is even more powerful than refusing to do it,” Goldin told TheDCNF. “It didn’t even occur to me when I took up this cause that it might have a negative effect on my quote ‘career.’ It became more important to me than that. … Maybe it will, but I can’t concern myself with that.”

Purdue Pharma issued the following statement to TheDCNF when it requested comment:

Purdue Pharma shares the public’s concerns regarding the opioid addiction crisis, and we are committed to working collaboratively with all those affected by this public health crisis on meaningful solutions to help stem the tide of opioid-related overdose deaths.

Purdue’s led industry efforts to combat prescription drug abuse, which has included collaborating with law enforcement, funding enhancements and improvements to state prescription drug monitoring programs and directing health care professionals to the CDC’s Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain. In addition, we’ve recently announced educational initiatives aimed at teenagers warning of the dangers of opioids and we continue to fund grants to law enforcement to help with accessing naloxone, and other efforts to bring over-the-counter naloxone to the market.

We recognize that more needs to be done and that’s why we launched a new, long-term initiative which will build over the coming months and years as we pursue a range of solutions that we believe will have a meaningful impact to help address the opioid addiction crisis.

A spokesperson for the Sackler family referred TheDCNF to Purdue Pharma for comment on pending litigation.

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