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Activists Target Tufts Over Opioid Ties

March 27, 2019

Tufts University is being targeted by a digital activist group protesting the role of pharmaceutical firms in the U.S.’s opioid epidemic and the firms' support of educational and cultural institutions.

Tufts was named the first recipient of the so-called Virtual Spoon Drop, an online campaign named after an artist’s 800-pound opioid spoon sculpture that has been displayed at the headquarters of two pharmaceutical companies.

The Opioid Spoon Project said artist Domenic Esposito’s hand-sculpted installation has targeted Purdue and Rhodes Pharma -- the project’s aim is to highlight “the many ‘players’ who continue to contribute to and profit from the opioid crisis.”

In the online version, which uses social media platforms and manipulated photo images, the project displays a meme depicting Esposito's sculpture and the recipients’ logo or headquarters.

Tufts on Monday said it is reviewing funding it has received from the Sackler family, which owns Purdue Pharma. Purdue has been linked to efforts to downplay the dangers of opioids even as evidence mounted of the addiction crisis it helped create.

The Sacklers have been major donors to biomedical education and to arts institutions, some of which have stopped taking Sackler money.

Tufts in January began reviewing its connection to Purdue after Massachusetts attorney general Maura Healey alleged that members of the Sackler family knew its opioid products were causing overdoses and were involved in efforts to mislead doctors and the public about the powerful painkiller’s effects. Healey’s court filing alleged that Purdue funded “an entire degree program at Tufts University to influence Massachusetts doctors to use its drugs.”

Purdue also sponsored an annual “Sackler Lecture” at Tufts on pain medicine. Richard Sackler, Purdue’s former chairman and president, for many years held a seat on the school of medicine’s board, Healey said.

In a statement, Esposito, the artist, said, "It is unacceptable and highly disturbing that Tufts has allowed an entire generation of doctors to be trained by the founders of Purdue within their institution. The next generation should be trained on the merits of medicine, not influence. Salespeople belong in car dealerships, not our medical schools."


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