Editorial: A response to the President’s letter on the Sackler family

How many people have to die before Tufts cuts ties with the Sackler family? Is 50,000 nationwide too many? How about 2,000 in MassachusettsSeventeen in Medford? Sixteen in Somerville?

President Monaco’s email stated that Tufts will investigate whether “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.” This is not the issue that matters. Focusing on whether Tufts followed its own self-ascribed policies is irrelevant. What matters is that people are suffering and dying and that our school has taken money from the family most at fault for that pain, refusing to end the relationship.

The Sacklers admitted in their own emails that they were trying to market OxyContin in a dishonest and dangerous way. Other institutions, including Columbia University and the University of Washington, have pledged not to take any more money from the Sackler family. Tufts has not done the same. However, even that pledge is not justice. We don’t want Tufts to just walk away. We want Tufts to take responsibility for its actions and work to prevent more deaths.

From 2015 to 2017, 87 people died from overdoses in Medford and Somerville. Add in Boston and Grafton, and 846 people died in cities where Tufts has a campus. That data doesn’t even include the past two years, during which the crisis did not abate.

The editor of this section has lost count of the people he knows who have died in this epidemic. How many more students have to lose count too?

If Attorney General Maura Healey is right, Tufts has been complicit in the deaths of at least 846 people.

But the numbers alone don’t tell the whole story. Every person who died in this epidemic was as human as you. They didn’t set out to be addicts or to die of an overdose. Companies identified human pain as a source of perpetual profit and knowingly created addictive and lethal substances to exploit that opportunity. This act was the ultimate perversion of medicine, a corruption of the relationship of trust and care that ought to exist between healthcare workers and the sick. Tufts took money from a company and a family whose fortune was based on knowingly creating addicts and lying about it. Tufts is still willing to take money from them.

Tufts should use the sum it received from the Sacklers and invest it in research-backed recovery programs, like methadone and suboxone treatments and humane care. To atone for Tufts’ role in the opioid crisis, which included creating curriculum that promoted their products, Tufts must provide some measure of dignity and care to people hurt by OxyContin.

No one should have had to die for Tufts to investigate whether it did something wrong. It is too late to reverse past harms, but Tufts has the power to begin alleviating the problems it helped create. Simple policy solutions like proper funding for recovery programs, needle exchanges and mental health care can reduce harm.

Tufts must sever ties with the Sacklers and then try to repair some of the damage it has done.