Artist ‘Gifts’ an 800-Pound Drug Spoon to a Powerful Opioid CompanyJul 9, 2018
Fernando Luis Alvarez knows how to make a point. Earlier this week, he sent his message of disapproval to Big Pharma in the form of an 800-pound complaint. Alvarez was arrested after leaving a massive sculpture of a heroin spoon at Purdue Pharmaceutical’s headquarters, as a symbol of the company’s role in the United States’ opioid epidemic.
Alvarez is the owner of Stamford, Connecticut’s Fernando Luis Alvarez Gallery and collaborated with Boston-based artist Domenic Esposito on the design of the spoon. Esposito’s brother has struggled with heroin addiction for 14 years. He told Time that “the spoon is a symbol of darkness. It brings back some negative emotions for me.”
Alvarez was arrested after refusing to remove the spoon from Purdue’s property, but says that the company needs to be held accountable. “The justice department and the country has to start putting some of these people behind bars, because they go on and make a lot of money and then they pay a fine and so be it,” said Alvarez, before adding: “That is just not the way it should be.”
The two men said they’re already talking about dropping more of the giant spoons off at the offices of other companies, as well as doctors and politicians.
“It will be dropped to the next company and the next company and the next company, and then the next level of actors,” Alvarez declared. “We’re going to make sure that they get their gift from us.”
Following the incident, Purdue’s public relations team trotted out a response saying it “shared the concerns of the protesters” and that they were committed to finding “meaningful solutions.”
In Alvarez’s eyes, the criminal charges are the expected blowback from bringing an important message to the public’s attention. “I was just laser-sharp focused in seeing that sculpture there and making sure society and the media would actually get our movement going, with that spoon being a symbol of the true accountability and the true conversations we need to be having about this,” he said.
He’s due back in court on July 10, and will learn then the fate of the spoon sculpture. The gallery owner said he and Esposito may gift the city of Boston an honorary spoon, because of the steps Massachusetts has taken in holding pharmaceutical companies responsible for the opioid crisis. A lawsuit was recently filed by the state’s attorney general who accuses Purdue’s executives and directors of pushing opioids like OxyContin.
“Their strategy was simple,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said. “The more drugs they sold, the more money they made, and the more people died.” Purdue has made $22 billion off OxyContin in the last decade.
Since 2009, Massachusetts has buried 670 of its own who were prescribed Purdue’s opioids. In 2016, more than 63,000 people died in opioid-related deaths.
Massachusettes isn’t the only state fighting back at big pharma for their role in the opioid epidemic. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) said that he will push for a bill that holds big pharma executives accountable for their role in the national health crisis.
Called the Opioid Crisis Accountability Act of 2018, the hard-hitting bill goes after the pharmaceutical puppet masters in a big way. A minimum sentence of 10 years will be imposed on individuals “whose companies are found guilty of criminal activity related to the opioid crisis.” The financial kicker is that they would also have to pay out fines equaled to their compensation packages in addition to an extra $7.8 billion to cover one-tenth the annual cost of the crisis.
Purdue has already been fined $600 million in 2007 for lying to the public about the dangers of its opioid OxyContin.
While going after the makers of prescription opioids is only part of the battle, others are looking to the decriminalization of another drug to fight opioid addiction. Medical marijuana has long been the battle cry for cannabis advocates and new research has emerged showing that it may treat some of the same symptoms that opioids are prescribed for. “We do know that cannabis is much less risky than opiates, as far as likelihood of dependency,” W. David Bradford, a professor of public policy at the University of Georgia said.
Until something is done and the tides finally begin to change though, Fernando Luis Alvarez and Domenic Esposito will keep fighting — their giant spoons in tow.