Parents whose children fatally overdosed on opioids are demanding Harvard University remove the name of a family whose company makes the powerful painkiller OxyContin from a building that housed one of its art museums.
About two dozen parents protested Friday outside the building that was home to the Arthur M. Sackler Museum — many of them carrying poster-sized photos of their children.
Wendy Werbiskis, whose son Daniel died from an overdose in 2017, likened Harvard's decision to accept donations from the Sackler family to "blood money." Werbiskis, 56, said her son was a plumber and became addicted to OxyContin when he was going through a difficult phase of his life and someone suggested it could help him feel better. She said he didn't realize how addictive the drug was.
"Harvard, we want the Sackler name to come down," she said. "This is a wonderful institution. And to be associated with the Sackler family is wrong, on every level possible. No more blood money."
Tony LaGreca, 71, said his son Matthew became addicted after suffering a football injury in college in the 1990s. He said he was taken to a hospital for treatment and was prescribed 100 Oxycodone pills and told to take three or four a day as needed.
"He got addicted right away and it was hell for the next 15 years until he died," LaGreca said. He said Matthew was in and out of rehab and eventually died in 2014 at age 41 from an acute overdose of methadone, which was he as taking in an effort to get clean.
"The Sackler family lied and our kids died," LaGreca said.
A spokesman for the Harvard Art Museums said Arthur M. Sackler donated funds in 1982 that contributed to the construction of the original building that housed the museum. The museum was moved in 2014 into another building housing other Harvard museums.
"Dr. Sackler died in 1987, before OxyContin was developed and marketed. Given these circumstances and legal and contractual considerations, Harvard does not have plans to remove Dr. Sackler's name from the museum. The Arthur M. Sackler Foundation does not fund the Arthur M. Sackler Museum at Harvard," the museum said in a statement Friday.
The protest comes as the Sackler family is coming under increasing scrutiny in the midst of a deadly opioid overdose crisis that has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of Americans in recent years.
Britain's Tate museums and New York's Guggenheim Museum, where the family has been major donors, announced they would stop taking gifts from the family. And Tufts University, which has a graduate school of biomedical sciences named for the family, said it was evaluating the relationship.
A lawsuit filed by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey accuses Connecticut-based Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family of hiding the risks of opioids from doctors and patients. The Sackler family owns the drug company.
The family has responded by saying that the lawsuit is riddled with inaccurate and misleading statements and that Healey cherry picked from hundreds of internal documents to wrongly vilify the family for the public health crisis.
The Sacklers have also tried to distance themselves from the workings of the company it owns, saying family members were being informed of Purdue Pharma's issues rather than controlling every detail of operations.
Healey said the lawsuit makes clear the role that Purdue's executives and directors played in creating and profiting from the opioid crisis.