Documents Reveal Oxford University 'Addicted' To Sackler Family's Drug Money
There are no "Pablo Escobar" or "El Chapo Guzman" named buildings at the University of Oxford in Oxford, England, but the disgraced billionaire Sackler family, partially responsible for the deadly US opioid epidemic, still has naming rights plastered all over the university.
Documents obtained by the Financial Times -- including letters, bank statements, and event attendee lists between 2020-22 -- show Oxford has yet to sever ties with the Sacklers despite their company, Purdue Pharma, reaching a deal with US states in bankruptcy court to funnel billions of dollars for addiction treatment programs.
Recall Purdue was the maker of the prescription painkiller OxyContin. The pharmaceutical company downplayed the drug's addictive qualities that enriched the Sackler family by billions of dollars. But the cost was at the expense of blue-collar workers who became addicted to the drug and helped spark the opioid epidemic. Estimates show more than half a million Americans have died from opioid overdoses since 1999.
Some of the documents reviewed by FT relate to departments across the university, including the Ashmolean Museum, the university's museum of art and archaeology, and Worcester College.
In January 2020, a few months after Purdue filed for bankruptcy, Lord James Lupton, chair of the board of visitors at the Ashmolean, wrote to Dame Theresa Sackler, a former longstanding board member of Purdue, who is identified in several of the lawsuits.
"As the new face on the board, I am 'all ears' to the views of our most important patrons and supporters, and I very much hope that you will contribute your ideas over the next few weeks," Lupton said. In his letter, he shared his telephone number at the House of Lords and his email at Greenhill investment bank, where he is a senior adviser. In what appears to be an inside joke, Lupton added in pencil: "PS: As you might imagine, I think I am going to love this rôle."
In what appears to be an inside joke, Lupton added in pencil: "PS: As you might imagine, I think I am going to love this rôle."
OxyContin heiress Dame Theresa Sackler is the third wife of the late Mortimer Sackler, the former CEO of Purdue. She is the chair of the Sackler Trust and a trustee of the Dr. Mortimer and Theresa Sackler Foundation and is very well known in philanthropic circles.
While other universities and art galleries have stripped the name "Sackler" off their buildings and ceased communication, Oxford appears still to have a friendly relationship with the disgraced family.
The Sacklers' two UK-based charities have given more than £10mn to Oxford since 1991. Most notably, the family funded the building of the Sackler Library, part of the university's renowned Bodleian Libraries.
In 2021 the Oxford Development Trust, which seeks to "secure the advancement of education" at the university, received £50,332 from the Sackler Trust to fund previously pledged research positions held by Worcester College and the Ashmolean. The university has not applied for any fresh donations since 2019.
In April 2022, Dame Theresa Sackler still had access to exclusive social networks at Oxford, highlighting what years of 'philanthropy' can buy.
She was an "external attendee" at a private viewing of the annual Oxford and Cambridge boat race. The event was hosted onboard the Erasmus, by the chancellor and vice-chancellor of the university. The guest list for the event, compiled by the University of Oxford Development Office, noted that Sackler was invited as a member of the "Chancellor's Court of Benefactors."
In September, Sackler was also invited to the annual Ashmolean gala dinner.
The Sackler name remains emblazoned on many buildings in Oxford. As well as the Sackler Library, there are two Sackler galleries in the Ashmolean, and Mortimer Sackler's name is inscribed on the Clarendon Arch.
The Sacklers also retain "naming rights" to multiple academic positions: the Sackler Keeper of Antiquities, the Sackler Education Officer, and the Sackler Research Fellow at the Ashmolean, as well as science fellowships.
Megan Kapler, an activist at Prescription Addiction Intervention Now, said the Sacklers are part of "toxic philanthropy."
"We would call on Oxford to pay attention to the origin of the money of their benefactors and also the social and historical implications of keeping people like Theresa Sackler in this court," Kapler said.
Despite the fact that Sacklers are no different than cartels, both make money off highly addictive drugs that destroy communities. The names of Escobar and El Chapo don't appear on any notable buildings.
Oxford has an addiction to the Sacklers that it just can't break.