Physicians for Human Rights called on Tel Aviv University to rename its Sackler Faculty of Medicine amid allegations that the Jewish-American Sackler family, which owns Purdue Pharma, pushed OxyContin and other opioids in the United States to increase sales even as questions emerged about the extent its painkillers were being abused.
"I turn to you on the backdrop of the opioid crisis in the US and the reports on the Sackler family's part in its creation," Hadas Ziv, the head of public activity and ethics at the Israeli NGO, wrote in a letter to Tel Aviv University President Prof. Joseph Klafter and the head of the Faculty of Medicine Prof. Ehud Grossman.
"While the faculty teaches that the most important thing is the health and life of patients, company executives, according to reports, encouraged inappropriate behavior that caused the death of people, in order to increase their profits," Ziv said.
By January 2019, 36 US states had filed lawsuits against Purdue Pharma charging deceptive marketing practices.
Massachusetts was the first state to try to hold members of the Sackler family, who own privately-held Purdue, personally responsible for contributing to the US opioid epidemic.
The Massachusetts' lawsuit accuses Purdue of deceiving doctors and patients by misrepresenting the risks of addiction and death associated with prolonged use of prescription opioids.
The allegations were made public despite Purdue’s efforts to keep much of the 279-page complaint redacted.
The complaint cites internal records to argue Sackler family members, including Purdue’s former President Richard Sackler, personally directed the marketing of opioids in order to make billions of dollars.
They did so even after Purdue and three executives in 2007 pleaded guilty to federal charges related to the misbranding of OxyContin and agreed to pay a total of $634.5 million in penalties, the lawsuit said.
Their push to boost sales, the lawsuit said, came even after staff showed family members on Purdue’s board a map correlating suspected illegal prescribers and reports of opioid poisonings in 2011.
Richard Sackler, as Purdue’s president, in a 2001 email argued the company needed to shift responsibility away from Purdue and “hammer on the abusers in every way possible,” the complaint said.
After leaving that position in 2003 but still a member of Purdue’s board, he frequently demanded detailed opioid sales data, the lawsuit said.
In 2011, Richard Sackler personally accompanied sales representatives to observe how they marketed Purdue products to doctors and afterwards argued that a legally required warning about opioid risks was unnecessary, the lawsuit said.
In an email cited in the complaint, he said, it “implies a danger of untoward reactions and hazards that simply aren’t there” and he pushed for a “less threatening” way to describe Purdue’s opioids.
Purdue in a statement on said Healey’s lawsuit “distorts critical facts” and “is littered with biased and inaccurate characterizations of these documents and individual defendants.”
Tel Aviv University said in response: "The Sackler family donated 50 years ago for the establishment of the medicine school. The matter has not yet been ruled on in US courts."