Artist Places Drug Spoon Sculpture at Opioid Maker Headquarters

Artist Places Drug Spoon Sculpture at Opioid Maker Headquarters
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The owner of a Stamford, Connecticut, art gallery was arrested June 22 after placing a sculpture of a drug spoon in front of Purdue Pharma’s headquarters, a top opioid manufacturer, and refusing to remove it.

Fernando Luiz Alvarez was charged with obstruction of free passage over his placement of the sculpture, which was meant to draw attention to the pharmaceutical industry’s role in fueling the nation’s opioid epidemic. He was also charged with interfering with police in front of the headquarters.

Alvarez placed the “guerilla art” smack dab in an automotive drop-off spot, preventing cars from stopping there.

Dropping off the sculpture is a misdemeanor; however, refusing to remove it is a felony.

The creative protestor could be forced to have the 10-1/2-foot-long drug spoon sculpture removed and placed in storage, police said.

The whole point of the spectacle was to draw public outrage against both Purdue and the Sackler family, the billionaire majority owners of the company, which created the incredibly-potent painkiller OxyContin, Alvarez explained.

“I have been extremely bothered and moved by the architects of this epidemic. I want to hold this family responsible for what they created and put in front of society and created a modern-day massacre.”

Alvarez is right about opioids causing a modern-day massacre. In 2016, drug overdoses killed more Americans than the entire Vietnam War – more than 63,600 people. By comparison, about 58,000 soldiers died during Vietnam. [2] [3]

Read: Washington City Sues OxyContin Maker over Opioid Epidemic

Of the more than 63,600 people who died from drug overdoses that year, 66% involved opioids, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). [4]

The spoon sculpture, named “Purdue,” was created by Boston-based artist Dominic Esposito, who was there when it was placed in front of the drug company’s headquarters. Before placing the sculpture, Esposito and Alvarez decided who would accept responsibility for the charges, and agreed that it would be Alvarez. [1]

The opioid crisis is a painful topic for Esposito, who said his brother’s own drug addiction inspired the artwork. Esposito said his brother’s addiction started with OxyContin and Percocet, later advancing to heroin.

“People say [OxyContin and Percocet] aren’t a big deal, but then you’re hooked and you run out of money and you turn to heroin.”

He said his brother, Danny, has been hooked on drugs for 14 years and has overdosed a few times.

“My mom would call me in a panic … screaming she found another burnt spoon. This is a story thousands of families go through. He’s lucky to be alive.”

He added:

“The spoon has always been an albatross for my family. It’s kind of an emotional symbol, a dark symbol for me.” [5]

This is just a movement for accountability. Percocet and OxyContin are still all over the streets. Nothing’s changed. People are still dying … It’s also a calling for the federal government to step in and do something.”

Purdue pleaded guilty in federal court in 2007 to mislabeling OxyContin and misleading the public about the drug’s addictive nature, and was forced to pay $600 million. That’s barely a drop in the bucket compared to the Sackler family’s 2015 estimated net worth of $14 billion. [1]

Three Purdue executives were convicted of criminal charges, and the company has faced countless lawsuits in the past and continues to do so.

Read: This 1980 Letter from Researchers Helped Fuel the Opioid Epidemic

In a statement, Robert Josephson, a spokesperson for Purdue, said:

“We share the protesters’ concern about the opioid crisis, and respect their right to peacefully express themselves. Purdue is committed to working collaboratively with those affected by this public health crisis on meaningful solutions to help stem the tide of opioid-related overdose deaths.”

Josephson also noted in the statement that in February 2018, Purdue ended its promotion of opioids to prescribers, and in early June the company eliminated its sales force.

Workers from the city public works department had removed the drug spoon sculpture by 10:45 a.m., loading it with a backhoe onto a flatbed truck. It will be registered as evidence, according to police.

Sources:

[1] Hartford Courant

[2] Vox

[3] CDC

[4] CNN

[5] USA Today

NBC News (featured image source)