Why anti-opioid protesters littered a legendary New York art space with pill bottles

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On Saturday, orange and white pill bottles floated by the hundreds in the reflecting pool in front of the iconic Temple of Dendur in New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art.

At first glance, the Sackler Wing at the famed art museum may seem a strange place for an anti-opioid demonstration, but protesters there wanted to call to attention the link between the wing's donors and the ongoing opioid crisis in America.

The wing was funded in the 1970s by a multi-million-dollar donation from the three Sackler brothers -- Arthur, Mortimer and Raymond. The brothers used their fortune from the pharmaceutical and medical advertising industries to become prominent art philanthropists. The Sacklers bought a pharmaceutical company that became Purdue Pharma, which developed the drug Oxycontin, which is a commonly abused painkiller and one of the main drugs cited in the ongoing prescription opioid crisis in the US.

So, to those who have seen the ravages of opioid addiction up close or personally, the Sacklers are inextricably tied to the drug's influence.

Saturday's protest, which involved a few dozen people, was started by Nan Goldin, a famous photographer who is also a survivor of opioid abuse -- specifically Oxycontin. As she and a few dozen protesters threw bottles into the pool, she cried "Shame!" and "Sacklers lie, people die" as a banner reading "Fund Rehab" was displayed nearby.

"The Sacklers made their fortune promoting addiction," Goldin wrote in Artforum magazine in 2017. "OxyContin is one of the most addictive painkillers in the history of pharmacology. They advertised and distributed their medication knowing all the dangers. The Sackler family and their private company, Purdue Pharma, built their empire with the lives of hundreds of thousands."

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