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Somerville mayor pushes for conversation about Sackler name at Harvard, Tufts

Somerville mayor Joe Curtatone.
Somerville mayor Joe Curtatone.(Essdras M Suarez/ Globe Staff)

In the wake of bombshell allegations in a Massachusetts lawsuit filed against the maker of OxyContin, the mayor of Somerville is questioning whether two local and prestigious universities should strip the name of the family behind the pharmaceutical giant from its buildings.

In a Thursday tweet, referring to allegations by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s office, Somerville Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone wrote, “As a @Harvard graduate and Mayor of a city that’s home to @TuftsUniversity, I think there needs to be a serious discussion about removing the Sackler name from those campuses given the revelations coming from @MassAGO about how #OxyContin was pushed in our state.”

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The Sacklers own Purdue Pharma, the Connecticut-based maker of the powerful painkiller OxyContin, and the family name is on the walls at some of the world’s great museums and universities. Harvard has the Arthur M. Sackler Museum. Tufts has the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences and the Arthur M. Sackler Center for Medical Education in Boston.

Members of the Sackler family have been accused in a lawsuit brought by the state of Massachusetts of deceiving patients and doctors about the risks of OxyContin.

A story published Tuesday in STAT, an online health and science publication produced by Boston Globe Media, detailed how Dr. Richard Sackler, who became Purdue cochairman in 2003, outlined a strategy two years earlier to blame addicts for mounting overdoses.

“By their misconduct, the Sacklers have hammered Massachusetts families in every way possible,” the state’s complaint read. “And the stigma they used as a weapon made the crisis worse.”

In an e-mail Friday, a spokeswoman for Dame Jillian Sackler, the widow of Arthur M. Sackler, said Arthur Sackler had no connection to the opioid controversy and died nearly a decade before OxyContin came onto the market. She also said neither he nor his heirs are named in any of the lawsuits involving the drug.

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During a phone interview Thursday night, Curtatone, who holds a master’s of public administration from Harvard’s Kennedy School, said he has yet to reach out to either school about sparking a discussion regarding the Sackler name at the universities but said he would consider doing so.

“I think we as a public should demand that they ask why,” he said.

Tufts spokesman Patrick Collins said in a statement: “The Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences was established in 1980 by Jean Mayer, then president of Tufts University, and the Board of Trustees to promote collaborative and interdisciplinary graduate education to advance health.”

He continued, “In 1983, Jean Mayer and the Board of Trustees established the Arthur M. Sackler Center. In both cases, the naming gifts were provided to the university more than a decade before OxyContin was introduced to the marketplace.”

The Harvard Art Museums have stressed that the Arthur M. Sackler Foundation does not fund the Arthur M. Sackler Museum at Harvard: “Arthur Sackler generously donated the funds in 1982 that paid for the construction of the original building that housed the Arthur M. Sackler Museum at 485 Broadway. In 2014, the Arthur M. Sackler Museum was relocated to 32 Quincy Street, as part of the renovation and expansion of the Harvard Art Museums.”

Messages left with Purdue Pharma were not returned Thursday night.

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Travis Andersen of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Material from the Associated Press and The New York Times and previous Globe coverage was used in this report. Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.