Photographer, former addict takes on opioid makers

Renowned photographer Nan Goldin, herself a recovering opioid addict, is waging a campaign to hold the family behind painkiller brand OxyContin accountable for its role in the epidemic.

The drug is made by one of several companies owned by the Sacklers, who are among the richest families in the US.  

The family’s drug company, Purdue Pharma, has made tens of billions on opioid sales, and the Sacklers have spent some of that money supporting the arts.

Now, Goldin, 64, is circulating a petition, already signed by more than 6,000 people, demanding artists boycott the Sackler’s money and that Purdue Pharma take responsibility for helping to fuel opioid addiction in America.

Celebrated American photographer Nan Goldin survived an opioid addiction and is now spearheading a campaign to hold OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma to account

‘I survived the opioid crisis. I narrowly escaped,’ she says in a statement accompanying her petition on

After getting treatment, Goldin began researching the opioid epidemic and the mounting deaths.

‘I learned that the Sackler family, whose name I knew from museums and galleries, were responsible for the epidemic,’ she said.

The Sacklers are descended from two brothers, Mortimer and Raymond Sackler, who helped build Purdue into a pharmaceutical powerhouse. 

Goldin has formed an advocacy group, Prescription Addiction Intervention Now, or PAIN, to pressure the Sackler family and Purdue Pharma to finance treatment and prevention programs, and to re-educate doctors on the dangers of over-prescription of opioids.

Her petition, which circulates on Twitter under the hashtag #ShameOnSackler, calls on museums and universities who benefit from Sackler money – including the Metropolitan Museum, the Guggenheim and Harvard – ‘to refuse future donations from the Sacklers.’

Purdue Pharma, which already faces a string of lawsuits, says in an open letter on its website that it is acting to bring the epidemic under control.

‘Our industry and our company have and will continue to take meaningful action to reduce opioid abuse,’ it said, adding that it was supporting initiatives to educate doctors and develop non-opioid painkillers.

Elizabeth Sackler, a daughter of one of the company’s founders, told Hyperallergic that Purdue Pharma’s role in the opioid crisis was ‘morally abhorrent to me’ in a statement. 

Goldin, who lives between New York and Paris, became known in the 1970s with photographs that pushed the boundaries of intimacy and spontaneity, breaking numerous taboos on sexuality. Her work has been exhibited in top museums, including MoMA.