Tufts University announced Monday it had hired a former U.S. attorney to investigate its relationship with Purdue Pharma and the billionaire Sackler family that owns the maker of OxyContin and other opioid painkillers, following allegations that Purdue sought to gain influence at the school through donations.

“The anguish that opioids have inflicted on so many individuals and families is tragic and deserves our serious attention,” Tufts President Tony Monaco wrote in a letter addressed to the Tufts community. In naming Donald K. Stern, a former U.S. attorney in Massachusetts, to lead the review, Monaco added: “I strongly believe it is important to both our university and those who have suffered as a result of the opioid crisis to investigate these allegations thoroughly.”

Tufts and the Sackler family have a long history, dating back at least to 1980, when family members endowed the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences.

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Scrutiny of the ties has been building amid the growing opioid crisis — which critics say OxyContin and Purdue’s aggressive marketing of its drugs helped trigger. It came to a head when a lawsuit filed last year by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey against Purdue and members of the Sackler family revealed that the company allegedly influenced educational and research programs at Tufts and sought to use the Tufts brand to bolster the company’s.

Tufts announced it had started an internal review in January after the release of detailed allegations when a more expansive version of the lawsuit was made public.

Purdue has denied the allegations in the lawsuit. In a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, the company also denied it controlled programs at Tufts and said that the donations were just educational and charitable grants, which the company provides to a number of organizations.

The Tufts announcement Monday comes as medical centers and cultural institutions around the world grapple with the millions in donations they have received from the extended Sackler family. For years, the family was known primarily as a benefactor of the arts and sciences, with little attention paid to the key source of the family’s wealth: the privately held drug company that they founded and controlled. Advocates have been pressing institutions to detach themselves from the Sacklers, even holding a public protest at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York in February. The museum said on Friday it would no longer take gifts from the Sacklers.

The Guggenheim’s announcement came the same week as the Tate in London said it wouldn’t accept donations from the Sacklers anymore, and London’s National Portrait Galley and a Sackler charitable organization agreed not to go forward with a planned $1.3 million donation.

On Monday, the Sackler Trust, a philanthropic organization funded by the family, said it had halted donations in the U.K., the BBC reported.

The Massachusetts lawsuit alleges that Purdue and the Sacklers didn’t just donate to Tufts — they got something in return.

According to the lawsuit, the Sackler family provided the funding to start Tufts medical school’s Pain Research, Education, and Policy Program in 1999. Purdue-written materials were approved for teaching to Tufts students in 2014, and in 2011, a Purdue employee was named an adjunct associate professor, the lawsuit says.

With the pain program, “Purdue got to control research on the treatment of pain coming out of a prominent and respected institution or learning,” the lawsuit contends.

In his letter, Monaco wrote that the lawsuit alleges the donations to the pain program “were part of an effort to legitimize the marketing of those drugs. These allegations are deeply troubling.” He said Stern, who is at the firm Yurko, Salvesen & Remz, would look into Tufts programs that received funding from the Sacklers, their family foundations, and Purdue.

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“The review will determine if we adhered to our policies and if our policies adopted best practices with respect to academic and research integrity and conflicts of interest in accepting those funds,” Monaco wrote.

Critics of the relationship have noted that the main Tufts campus sits on the Somerville-Medford line, straddling two communities that have been hard hit by the addiction crisis.

Stern served as U.S. attorney in Massachusetts from 1993 to 2001, and during that time oversaw the indictment of infamous gangster Whitey Bulger. He has been in private practice since 2001 and has taught at Harvard Law School, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Last year, Stern and Yurko, Salvesen & Remz were hired by the Archdiocese of Boston to investigate sexual misconduct allegations at seminaries.

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  • The Perdue Oxycontin conspiracy is just the tip of the iceberg, when it comes to deceptive pharma marketing. We knew about the abuse of Oxycontin back in 2000, yet the system failed to respond. Each dose of Oxycontin contained a larger dose of medication, than the stated amount, because of the time release properties. That was the reason that the addicted were using it.

    Due to regulatory capture, corruption and industry friendly regulators, there was nothing done in 2000. The mass media at the direction of the pharma industry is still conflating Oxycontin with all opioids. The pharma industry turned this problem into a marketing and propaganda extravaganza. They created a false narrative to demonize, and stigmatize, people with pain, and drug addicts. Most mass media articles conflate the two issues, and continue to mislead the public.
    The American Psychological Association got in on the action, describing all people who ever used any opiate as “Addicted.” This was done to protect pharma and the medical industry, and preserve profits for pharma. There is no evidence of any alternatives for opioids yet the media continues to peddle that snake oil.

    Face it America has been taken over by corporate interests. Lobbyists and well placed bribes, increased Perdues sales. Large scale black market diversions form the supply stream by big box stores were hidden, in order to blame sick people. The so called opiate epidemic has been incredibly profitable. Pain was the main reason anyone went to the doctor, and now thanks to corporate lies and media propaganda, any low income person reporting pain to their physician is now a suspect. They used to so called opiate epidemic to deny people medical care, demonize sick blue collar workers, and ensure industry profits.

    Remember the US had laws about marketing pharmaceutics until 1996, the same year Perdue and the other corrupt pharma companies bagan the non stop marketing campaigns. Thousands of Americans have died form opiates and other pharmaceutical products since then.

    This country is much too corrupt to address any of this, they failed everyone that has died over the years. The death toll, includes the suicides of people with untreated chronic pain. They failed to provide treatment for the addicted also, choosing the deceptive and cheap 12 step programs instead.

  • As a pain patient, opioids have been a blessing to me and I know also, for many other countless thousands of us. The only person, or persons who are responsible for the abuse and/or death from taking them are those who are using them recklessly, irresponsibly and probably illegally.
    I realize that there is probably greed involved here with these companies, but that is an issue for the government to deal with. Don’t punish pain patients for someone else’s actions.

  • Shut them all down!!!!!! or better yet give a Purdue Pharma family member oxycontin daily for a couple months then cut them off and let the go through a detox and see if that opens their obviously glued shut eyes !!!!! They have no idea what its like to watch a family member hooked so bad that quitting isn’t an option anymore! And shut! down all these pain clinics…. I know people who get unbelievable amounts of pain meds some take them others sell them to drive fancy cars and and it all makes me sick!!!!! PEOPLE do your jobs this world is going to hell in a handbag FAST!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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