A Dramatised Look at America’s Opioid Crisis

A Dramatised Look at America’s Opioid Crisis

Review: Painkiller

Netflix’s miniseries Painkiller delves into the devastating opioid epidemic in the United States, weaving a narrative that blends real-life figures with fictional characters to expose the greed and corruption that fueled the crisis. Based on investigative journalism by Patrick Radden Keefe and Barry Meier, the series takes viewers on a journey from the boardrooms of Purdue Pharma to the ravaged lives of everyday Americans.

The show centres around the Sackler family, the wealthy owners of Purdue Pharma, responsible for the development and aggressive marketing of OxyContin, a powerful opioid painkiller. Matthew Broderick portrays Richard Sackler, the family patriarch, who prioritises profit over patient safety. Through flashbacks, we see the Sacklers’ ambition to build a pharmaceutical empire, culminating in their relentless push for OxyContin.

Painkiller effectively portrays Purdue’s deceptive marketing tactics. The series highlights the company’s misleading claims about the drug’s low addiction potential, their targeting of doctors with aggressive sales representatives like the character played by Dina Shihabi, and their downplaying of the drug’s dangers.

While the Sacklers represent the corporate greed that fueled the crisis, Painkiller also details its human cost. The series most importantly doesn’t shy away from the graphic realities of addiction. We witness withdrawal symptoms, overdose scares, and the toll addiction takes on families.  These portrayals, while difficult to watch, are crucial for understanding the true human cost of the opioid epidemic.

Each episode also begins with family members detailing the way that OxyContin has cost their family members their lives.

Opposing the Sacklers’ relentless pursuit of profit is a team of investigators led by the determined Edie Flowers (Uzo Aduba). Flowers represents the tireless efforts of those who tried to hold Purdue accountable. The series highlights the challenges faced by regulators and law enforcement in uncovering the truth behind Purdue’s marketing practices.

While some might find the fictionalisation of certain aspects of the story a drawback, Painkiller effectively uses this approach to engage viewers and make the complex issue of the opioid crisis more accessible.

Painkiller doesn’t paint a simplistic picture of blame.  We see how pain management practices in the medical field contributed to the over-prescription of opioids. Additionally, the struggles of those battling addiction are portrayed with empathy, avoiding stereotypes of addicts as solely responsible for their situation.

Painkiller serves as a powerful reminder of the devastating consequences of corporate greed and the importance of holding corporations accountable.

Despite its dark subject matter, Painkiller is a compelling and important watch.  The series offers a well-rounded exploration of the opioid crisis, from its corporate origins to its human cost.  By combining dramatised stories with real-life events, Painkiller educates viewers and sparks essential conversations about addiction, corporate responsibility, and the ongoing fight for public health in the United States. 

Painkiller is available to stream on Netflix


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