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The Heartbreaking True Story of Netflix’s Painkiller

 The Heartbreaking True Story of Netflix’s Painkiller

Netflix’s latest restricted assortment takes on a subject matter so tall it’ll appear unwieldy: the opioid disaster that has ravaged the US, contributing to a catastrophic upward push in overdose deaths (more than a million American citizens have died of overdoses since 2000, most of them as a result of opioids).

However Painkiller (now streaming), which in its immediate-chopping, breezy unpacking of dense cloth recalls The Mountainous Immediate, is additionally disarmingly spellbinding, and even comic. The six-episode fictionalized retelling of staunch events, primarily primarily based on The Recent Yorker’s “The Family That Constructed an Empire of Anxiety” by Patrick Radden Keefe and Barry Meier’s book Anxiety Killer, smartly makes a speciality of one most important nook of this tragedy: Purdue Pharma, the authentic maker of OxyContin, which pushed the drug into doctors’ (and thus patients’) palms, and the Sackler family that owns the firm—and has earned billions off of a effectively being grief.

Matthew Broderick performs the sincere Richard Sackler, who helped spearhead the blockbuster success of OxyContin, as one thing of an ungainly, bumbling presence—no longer so noteworthy unfriendly as amoral, unwilling to let moral sense intervene with profit. Other stars playing fully fictional characters contain Uzo Aduba as a prosecutor targeting Purdue, Taylor Kitsch as a automobile repair shop proprietor who turns into hooked on OxyContin following an hurt, and Dina Shihabi and West Duchovny as a pair glamorous, horny, and extremely efficient female sales reps for Purdue.

However the put does actuality pause, and the fiction originate? Listed below are the salient facts condensed from Painkiller’s sources and other articles, to realize the alarming appropriate legend at the center of Netflix’s allege.

Who are the sincere other folks fascinated about the Painkiller legend?

painkiller matthew broderick as richard sackler in episode 103 of painkiller cr © 2023


Painkiller in the raze centers on Richard Sackler (Matthew Broderick), an inheritor to the Sackler family’s scientific and pharmaceutical dynasty. Namely, he’s the son of Raymond, brother to Arthur and Mortimer Sackler. The elder brothers have been born in Brooklyn and all turned doctors.

Arthur, idea to be the patriarch of the Sacklers, turned drawn to pharmaceutical decisions to midcentury psychoanalysis and electroshock remedy. He additionally proved adept at pharmaceutical advertising and marketing and marketing, which would tear on to change into a trademark of Purdue Pharma (and as psychiatrist Allen Frances suggested the Recent Yorker, a most modern “scourge” on the exchange). Arthur turned effectively off as a result of his advertising and marketing of the sedatives Librium and Valium. By a patent-treatment firm that can well maybe maybe change into Purdue Pharma, the Sacklers additionally created laxatives and ear wax remover.

The Sacklers have been additionally devoted patrons of the humanities and beneficiant philanthropists (a living in Recent York Metropolis’s Metropolitan Museum of Art became known as the Sackler Wing, unless the Met eliminated the establish in 2021 as a result of increasing outrage over the Sacklers’ characteristic in the opioid disaster). Richard and other youthful Sacklers have carried on the philanthropic tradition, to the level that they have been largely identified in the media for his or her donations, in preference to their pharmaceutical pursuits, unless latest years. Outdated to Arthur died in 1987, he imparted to his children this lesson: “Lag away the arena a greater living than must you entered it.” (Which is more than barely ironic, given Purdue’s eventual legacy.)

After Arthur’s death, his brothers and descendants divvied up his estate. By the 1990s, Richard, as a Purdue government, started setting up a successor to the firm’s MS Contin (managed-open morphine), whose patent became expiring. Pairing oxycodone with the same managed-open system, the drug became launched in 1996: it became known as OxyContin.

Other than Broderick’s Sackler and other Sacklers (in overall seen amusingly bickering in the style completely the wildly privileged can), Painkiller largely concocts fictional characters who appear to have been inspired by sincere other folks (or multiple other folks). Uzo Aduba’s authorized professional for the U.S. Felony professional’s Put of enterprise, Edie Vegetation, would possibly maybe well maybe maybe mirror any quantity of prosecutors who’ve gone after Purdue (the firm has been sued hundreds of times over OxyContin, including by forty eight states). Likewise Taylor Kitsch’s Glen Kryger, whose life is crushed when he’s prescribed OxyContin, serves as a composite of hundreds and hundreds of victims who’ve change into hooked on or abused opioids. And Dina Shihabi’s Britt Hufford and West Duchovny’s Shannon Schaeffer are fictional variations of Purdue’s infamously remarkable, base line-oriented sales crew.

So what did the Sacklers pause exactly, and why would possibly maybe well maybe just calm I care?

painkiller l to r john rothman as mortimer sackler, matthew broderick as richard sackler, sam anderson as raymond sackler in episode 103 of painkiller cr keri andersonnetflix © 2023


Successfully, first, the Sacklers are effectively off. Very, very effectively off. Treasure, they-would possibly maybe well maybe maybe-be-on-Succession effectively off. The family’s collective receive price is estimated at spherical $13 billion, in step with the Recent York Instances. And while, sure, they have been born into wealth constructed by the elder Sackler brothers, “nearly all of the Sacklers’ fortune has been accumulated completely in latest a protracted time, but the source of their wealth is to most other folks as vague as that of the robber barons,” as the Recent Yorker locations it.

Sacklers have given traditional interviews about their philanthropic endeavors, but have hardly ever spoken publicly about their enterprise, Purdue Pharma, which is privately held and situated in Stamford, Connecticut. (Richard Sackler has never given an on-the-narrative interview about OxyContin.) And the very best procedure crucial has OxyContin been to Purdue’s, and the Sacklers’, accumulation of massive wealth? Successfully, per the Recent Yorker, the opioid treatment “has reportedly generated some $35 billion in earnings.”

How exactly did Pharma and OxyContin contribute to the opioid disaster?

painkiller l to r west duchovny as shannon shaeffer, dina shihabi as britt hufford in episode 103 of painkiller cr keri andersonnetflix © 2023


To invent the long, thorny, complex history of the most modern opioid disaster a limited bit shorter: Outdated to OxyContin, doctors had been on the whole reluctant to prescribe tough opioids as a result of abuse doable. Synthetic opioids are derived from the opium poppy plant, and opium has been identified for its addictive properties for hundreds of years.

However from the initial OxyContin rollout, Purdue strategically marketed and sold the drug in such a procedure that countered the existing hesitation about opioids. A 2002 budget idea for the firm established that a prime just became to “expand” OxyContin’s software previous the celebrated opioid uses. Thousands of sales reps reportedly received training on “overcoming objections” from doctors to which they sold. One sales line went: “The birth system is believed to decrease the abuse liability of the drug.” A sales manager suggested a Florida teach investigator that Purdue execs “suggested us to recount issues admire it is miles ‘nearly’ non-addicting,” without any solid proof.

In these early years, given the absence of a wide stigma in opposition to OxyContin, prescriptions soared, resulting in “capsule mills” that in actuality exist to again opioid-addicted prospects. By 2003, the Drug Enforcement Administration had chanced on that Purdue’s “aggressive solutions” had “very noteworthy exacerbated OxyContin’s frequent abuse.” Yet Purdue outwardly shifted blame toward immoral drug abusers, as in a PSA that showed a limited bit one emptying his fogeys’ treatment cupboard, insisting the fault became no longer with the drug itself. Despite the bullish advertising and marketing and marketing, Purdue became responsive to OxyContin’s rampant abuse since no longer lower than 2000, from both press studies and its like interior data, the Recent Yorker explains.

The tip result: As doctors, namely in the 2010s, shied a ways flung from OxyContin and other opioid prescriptions as a result of the stacking proof showing how they’re abused, other folks that chanced on themselves zigzag in overall resorted to the shadowy market. Many ancient just true patients ended up procuring for heroin, and, increasingly, fentanyl, which is roughly 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. These boulevard decisions have helped lead to enormously greater overdose deaths. The Recent Yorker notes that latest Services and products for Illness Withhold watch over and Prevention figures cowl that 145 American citizens die from opioid overdoses daily.

How does Netflix’s Painkiller pause portraying this epidemic?

painkiller l to r taylor kitsch as glen kryger, carolina bartczak as lily kryger in episode 102 of painkiller cr keri andersonnetflix © 2023


Given the sweeping quantity of data here, Painkiller in actuality does quite effectively in turning out a seamless, a limited bit pulpy story! The assortment comes from government producers Eric Newman (Narcos), Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights, Lone Survivor), and Alex Gibney (Going Definite). Berg, directing all six episodes, is the opposite of subtle: Characters in overall be in contact in barely disguised exposition, and there are nerve-racking exaggerated trends (namely one doctor’s arbitrary, unsuitable German accent). On the synthetic hand all of it moves alongside nimbly.

And it’s irritating to knock the performing. Matthew Broderick is marvelous as a Ferris Bueller kind—if Bueller grew as much as fumble his procedure true into a dangerous pharmaceutical empire (looking at him aimlessly poke his mansion offers some rueful laughs). Uzo Aduba pulls off the tireless, no-nonsense prosecutor characteristic, making Edie Vegetation virtually comically anxious. Taylor Kitsch credibly reprises his stoic, wounded Taylor Kitsch schtick. However Dina Shihabi and West Duchovny virtually flee away with the allege, inspiring as females of assorted generations who disguise deep insecurities with bulletproof smiles, cleavage, and speaking points. Observing these intrepid blondes actualize their cloth dreams as they then all but again aid in a plot that ruins lives is bittersweet, mostly bitter—a strivers’ legend gone infamous as completely The united states can characterize it.

Headshot of Paul Schrodt

Paul Schrodt

Paul Schrodt is a freelance writer and editor who additionally contributes to Esquire, GQ, Cash, The Wall Street Journal, and more.

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