Louvre purges every mention of the Sackler opioid family after artist's protest

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2019/07/22/au-revoir.html


I Louve that the opioid dealers are finally being Sacked.


Kochs next? or is the path from point A to point B of their complicity too “complicated?”


They seem to give a ton of money to PBS.


Now if only the Smithsonian would do the same…


Kochs’ evil is much more subtle and indirect than Sacklers’ drug-pushing ways.


Scolding everyone for focusing on the Sacklers when the opioid crisis is so much bigger, you guys, in 3…2…1…


Arthur Sackler, the member of the family from whom both the fortune and the interest in art originated, was an unusual and talented person. I hope that where the donations came from him or his wife, and not his drug-pushing brothers and their families, there is not a knee-jerk reaction to redact his name. It would be a bad precedent to discourage charitable donations from people who have shady relatives.

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He was also the person who pushed Valium into record sales, and passed along the “market drugs way beyond what the doctors tell you is needed” business practices that caused the opioid crisis in the first place.

The only reason he’s not named in the lawsuits is because he died in 1987 on a huge pile of Valium-cash that was used to rehabilitate people’s opinions of what he did in life…


…and damaging.


He did introduce new marketing techniques to medicine, including advertising in magazines aimed at doctors, but not the direct-to-physician incentives that were at the heart of the opioid issues. He also was a philanthropist throughout his life, not just as an apologia, and was an important innovator in the use of ultrasound as a diagnostic tool, in the elimination of shock therapy as a standard therapeutic procedure, and was actively involved in increasing access to blood banks, especially for minorities. For sure he was not a perfect person, but unlike his brothers’ families he was not simply an evil parasite.


I agree with you, but the optics might be a little off-putting for some people. I hate to Godwin myself, If Heinz Hitler became a philanthropist during WWII and shelled out tons of money for hospitals and schools, I still don’t think we’d be seeing the “Hitler Wing” of any hospital or the “Hitler Elementary School for Youth” any time soon.


That’s not true. From Fortune:

Arthur’s philosophy was to sell drugs by lavishing doctors with fancy junkets, expensive dinners and lucrative speaking fees, an approach so effective that the entire industry adopted it.

“Not a perfect person” is a good euphemism. He made mind-boggling money off a broken healthcare system, and spent some of it on good works that let people ignore 1. How he made the money, and 2. How many people’s lives were wrecked behind the nice façade he bought.

From the New Yorker:

Sackler promoted Valium for such a wide range of uses that, in 1965, a physician writing in the journal Psychosomatics asked, “When do we not use this drug?” One campaign encouraged doctors to prescribe Valium to people with no psychiatric symptoms whatsoever: “For this kind of patient—with no demonstrable pathology—consider the usefulness of Valium.”

While running his advertising company, Arthur Sackler became a publisher, starting a biweekly newspaper, the Medical Tribune , which eventually reached six hundred thousand physicians. He scoffed at suggestions that there was a conflict of interest between his roles as the head of a pharmaceutical-advertising company and the publisher of a periodical for doctors. But in 1959 it emerged that a company he owned, MD Publications, had paid the chief of the antibiotics division of the F.D.A., Henry Welch, nearly three hundred thousand dollars in exchange for Welch’s help in promoting certain drugs. Sometimes, when Welch was giving a speech, he inserted a drug’s advertising slogan into his remarks. (After the payments were discovered, he resigned.) When I asked John Kallir about the Welch scandal, he chuckled, and said, “He got co-opted by Artie.”

Was he as bad? He was bad enough that I don’t see why anyone would defend him. He did pioneer marketing drugs far beyond their need, he wasn’t an “innocent victim”. He’s proof that philanthropy is the gift that gives most to the philanthropist, in the end.

Philanthropy to art organizations is a combination of reputation laundry and fee-for-access and other perks. Families with shady relatives are always going to be at the head of the donation lines, and Arthur Sackler was one of the shady relatives to begin with.


From my common person view, it appears to me that any philanthropy with someone’s name attached is ultimately meant to make them look good, more than for any other reason. Otherwise it would be done anonymously.

If I ever made more money than I knew what to do with, I like to think that’s how I would do it. But I never will, so I’ll never know.


It’s the philosophy of vanity license plates but with a different kind of price tag.

I kind of hope you’re wrong about your second paragraph, because you’d be better than these Sacklers.


Thanks for the compliment, but I’m also aware that money changes people in spite of their best intentions (when they have “best” intentions). I want to be better than them, but…

Also what was pointed out in another comment thread, people don’t get that kind of money in the first place because they are decent. You have to be wired for dark deeds to win Capitalism.


I’m not defending him, just pointing out that he did a lot of good, and is therefore a complicated individual. There’s really no need to put words into my mouth.

I think there is a big moral gulf between an Arthur Sackler and a Richard Sackler. That doesn’t mean I place the former on the side of the angels.

The New Yorker article you cite, even while trying hard to tie Arthur Sackler into the activities of Purdue, points out that no member of Arthur’s family (excluding the brothers and their families) profited from these opioids, and that an original intent of his advertising strategies was perhaps to make money, but also to bring information directly to doctors:

Sackler saw doctors as unimpeachable stewards of public health. “I would rather place myself and my family at the judgment and mercy of a fellow-physician than that of the state,” he liked to say. So in selling new drugs he devised campaigns that appealed directly to clinicians, placing splashy ads in medical journals and distributing literature to doctors’ offices.

While we have now seen the extent to which such strategies can be abused, to decide that this is what he had in mind in the first place is to assume the consequence. Medicine was in a period of big transition and professionalization in the mid-20th century, as with much science of the period some of what was done looks much worse through the modern lens of history.

Philanthropy to art organizations is a combination of reputation laundry and fee-for-access and other perks.

This is a cynical view which is not entirely false, but without this philanthropy we’d have much less publicly-accessible art. Shutting it down for the sake of moral purity will have consequences.

Even if he was a saint, the Sackler name is thoroughly and rightfully tarnished.

Walder Frey’s grandfather was probably a good and decent man…

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PBS has a very clear record re their own take on the opioid crisis.


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Both probably true.

As I understand it, the Louvre donations came from the thoroughly evil Sacklers, the Smithsonian donations from the grey area Sacklers. It will be interesting moving forward to see how the Smithsonian responds to the Louvre’s actions.

There are still numerous libraries that admit to being “Carnegie libraries”, and I’m pretty sure they were not named after Dale.