Thursday, September 14, 2023

Painkiller successfully turns non-fiction news into serious entertainment

Painkiller, a six-episode series on Netflix, is especially successful because of some of the subtler touches, such as Dr. Richard Sackler’s smoke alarms constantly going off somewhere in his massive hall of a mansion. He can never figure out how to silence them, or sometimes even locate them, which is likely a metaphor for the possible guilt he’ll maybe one day feel for killing massive amounts of people throughout the OxyContin opioid-abuse crisis. But that's big maybe. He is one evil dude in shlumpy body and a suit.

This show represents what I believe is a way to tell a true story that can potentially help fix a crisis that is happening in real life. The public no longer has an excuse to turn a blind eye to the way pharmaceutical companies, in this case Purdue, use marketing to get doctors to prescribe pain medicine that is incredibly addictive, destructive, and virtually impossible to stop taking for patients who want desperately to stop their pain.

The action revolves around four characters, who are each played with great skill by well-known actors. 

  • Matthew Broderick plays Sackler, the ultra-creepy and ruthless OxyContin mastermind. 
  • Taylor Kitsch of Friday Night Lights fame plays Glen, a happy and healthy auto-repair shop owner whose life spins out of control after an accident at work and a newfound dependence on pills. 
  • Orange is the New Black's Uzo Aduba devotedly investigates Purdue, sure that there are darker corporate Big Pharma forces at work behind the reason her brother is in prison.
  • Saint X's West Duchovny, daughter of David, is a good young woman who gets caught up in the riches available to Purdue's army of salespeople.

The story focuses on how Sackler strategically swayed the FDA into approving OxyContin in a way no other drug had ever been approved, noting in the application that it is "believed to" relieve pain and not be addictive. He recruits an FDA middle manager who is holding up the process to take up the good life with a cushy job at Purdue. Meanwhile, the sales army is busy partying and urging doctors to not just prescribe more OxyContin, but to up the doses. The reps' salaries and bonuses were, I kid you not, based on the amount of milligrams they could get the doctors to push.

Painkiller is essential entertainment and education.

5 out of 5 stars

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