V&A urged to give back £500k from opioid billionaires

The V&A Dundee is among Scottish beneficiaries facing calls to return donations from a billionaire family accused of fuelling an epidemic of painkiller addiction.

Details obtained by Scotland on Sunday show the museum received a £500,000 grant from the philanthropic arm of the Sackler family which is embroiled in legal action in the United States amid allegations it helped create an opioid crisis which has killed more than 200,000 people.

The Sackler Trust, which has made charitable donations of more than £60 million in the UK since 2010, also made grants totalling £2.5m to the universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, according to documents filed with the Charity Commission.

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Dame Theresa Sackler, the Trust’s chair, is among those named in a lawsuit against family firm Purdue Pharma in which Massachusetts’s attorney general accuses the company of creating the opioid epidemic and profiting from it “through a web of illegal deceit” with its prescription painkiller OxyContin.

V&A Dundee acknowledged the support of the Sackler Trust and the Dr Mortimer and Theresa Sackler Foundation. Picture: John Devlin

Last week Purdue moved to have the legal action dismissed, saying the case mischaracterised records to present a “sensationalist and distorted narrative”. The company “vigorously denies” allegations it acted improperly.

The £80m V&A Dundee opened in September amid hopes it can help rejuvenate a city which has the highest rate of drug deaths in the EU, in part due to the use of so-called “street valium”.

It is one of a number of high-profile institutions across the UK which has received money from the Sacklers over the past few years.

Green MSP Ross Greer said: “Public and charitable bodies in Scotland who’ve benefited from the company’s profits via the Sackler Trust should return those donations or otherwise work to ensure justice is delivered for opioid victims. The V&A and both universities can take the lead on that.”

Labour MSP Monica Lennon said: “Profiting from addiction is never ethical. Transparency around donations is really important as no city or community wants to benefit from the suffering of others.”

Purdue was set up by three Sackler brothers in the 1950s, including Mortimer who studied at Glasgow University. The university received financial backing from the Trust for its Imaging Centre of Excellence at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital which it said would “change and save lives”, while Edinburgh University has the Sackler Centre for Developmental Psychobiology. Both universities said they regularly review donations.

A spokeswoman for Edinburgh University said: “We are following legal developments in the United States closely and keeping our Ethical Fundraising Advisory Group closely informed.”

A V&A Dundee spokesman said: “V&A Dundee has received historic support from the Sackler Trust and the Dr Mortimer and Theresa Sackler Foundation for the creation of the museum, as have many other major cultural projects in the UK.”

A spokesperson for the Sackler Trust said: “We support a range of educational, medical, scientific, cultural and community organisations. It is a privilege to be able to support such vital work and we continue to do so.”