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Warren urges Harvard to drop Sackler name from museum over family’s opioid ties

US Senator and presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren on Wednesday called on Harvard University to strip its buildings of the name of the Sackler family.
US Senator and presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren on Wednesday called on Harvard University to strip its buildings of the name of the Sackler family.(Nathan Klima for the Boston Globe/File 2019)

US Senator and presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren on Wednesday called on Harvard University to strip its buildings of the name of the Sackler family, whose company makes the drug OxyContin and faces multiple legal battles over the extent of its role in the national opioid crisis.

Harvard has previously faced protests over its ties to the family, though the university has said it would be inappropriate to return donations or remove the name from the Arthur M. Sackler Museum, home of Harvard’s collection of Middle Eastern and Asian art.

Warren’s campaign laid out her position on the same day that the former Harvard professor laid out her plan to tackle the opioid crisis.

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And it came as Warren said she would make charitable donations to offset roughly $4,500 in campaign contributions from Sackler family members dating back several years, most recently in 2017.

Warren wrote that she hoped her policies would create “an America where when people like the Sacklers destroy millions of lives to make money, they don’t get museum wings named after them, they go to jail.”

CNN first reported her position on Harvard, which the campaign confirmed.

Warren’s proposal, which expands on a bill she developed last year with Maryland Democratic Representative Elijah Cummings, would pour $100 billion in federal money over 10 years into initiatives involving prevention and access to treatment.

Members of the billionaire Sackler family and their company Purdue Pharma have faced allegations that they downplayed the hazards of opioids to improve sales.

Both the family and company deny any wrongdoing in how they marketed and sold OxyContin. In a statement, a spokeswoman described a campaign donation by one family member, Beverly Sackler, as having been made “with the best intentions.”

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“We would welcome a genuine dialogue with the senator that’s fact-based, as the facts clearly demonstrate that the company started by Beverly’s family has for decades been the industry leader in combatting opioid abuse while providing products essential for the treatment of serious chronic pain,” the statement said.

In a statement, Harvard noted that donations from the family for the Arthur M. Sackler Museum preceded the introduction of OxyContin.

“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 statement said.

The university’s president, Lawrence Bacow, told The Harvard Crimson recently: “I think it would be inappropriate for the university to either return the gift or take Dr. Sackler’s name off the building that his gift supported, given that he had absolutely no relationship to it.”

Other institutions have faced criticism over ties to the Sacklers.

The United Kingdom’s Tate museums and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York have rejected donations from the family. Tufts University is reexamining its relationship with the Sacklers. And in Southern Vermont, some living near Mount Snow were dismayed to learn that the family had taken a significant stake in Peak Resorts, the company that owns the ski area.


Christina Prignano of the Globe staff contributed to this article. Andy Rosen can be reached at andrew.rosen@globe.com.