The Dopesick series on Hulu looks at the rise of OxyContin, Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family from multiple points of view. Even though most of us are unhappily familiar with the opioid crisis, this series adds insider detail to the story. It slowly and meticulously examines every aspect of how one private company created an opioid epidemic affecting every corner of America.
Dopesick uses a timeline that jumps around between 1996 and 2019. In 1996, Richard Sackler (a creepy Michael Stuhlbarg) was beginning to push his idea for a timed release opioid to his family. He had to convince them he had an idea that would make money. By 2019, Americans were marching in the streets in protest against Purdue Pharma. A lot happened in between.
The always outstanding Kaitlyn Dever played Betsy Mallum, a young lesbian working in a coal mine. Her conservative parents (Ray McKinnon and Mare Winningham) pretended she wasn’t a lesbian. When she became addicted, they try to heal her with prayer.
When Betsy was injured in the mines, her kindly local doctor Dr. Samuel Finnix (Michael Keaton) prescribed a low dose of the new drug OxyContin to her.
Michael Keaton and Kaitlyn Dever had big arcs in the story. Both went from good people with good hearts to addicts who would do anything for more pills. They represented millions of people affected by the drug and did it very well.
Opposite them were the many members of the Saddler family and their strategy for pushing their product using a huge army of sales reps who visited every doctor in the country again and again with new claims (false claims) about the wonders of the drug.
Billy Cutler (Will Poulter) and Amber (Phillipa Soo) were drug sales reps. Having them in the story let us inside the training rooms of the company where they were told the lies they used to convince doctors to prescribe the drugs. Like parrots, they carried the lies to doctors and hospitals and pharmacies where (at first) lies were believed and re-parroted to patients.
There were also the good guys fighting unseen to regulate and control the powerful drug that was killing so many. Bridget Meyer (Rosario Dawson) worked for the DEA. She struggled to get the attention of high level officials who had already approved a label for oxy that said it wasn’t addictive. The revolving door between government and industry that meant top officials would move into lucrative industry jobs and back into government jobs worked in Purdue’s favor.
Bridget Meyer didn’t stop fighting to get the drug off the streets and change the labeling. It was an uphill battle. She took her case to the media to bring pressure on the DEA, the FDA, and to raise awareness that there was a problem.
Also on the government side of the story were several Attorneys General and Assistant Attorneys General. Rick Mountcastle (Peter Sarsgaard) and Randy Ramseyer (John Hoogenakker) were two that did years of work. They had no resources, no help, and very little support from above, except for their immediate boss John Brownlee (Jake McDorman). With each new solid piece of evidence of how the company lied and colluded to create more sales, they wanted to bring Purdue and the Sackler family to court. It took years of work to get the barest minimum of proof and establish the first case against the company.
Dopesick was created and written by Danny Strong based on the book by Beth Macy. Patricia Riggen directed 2 of the the episodes. Each of the 8 episodes were a solid hour in length. The series was careful, thorough, and detailed.
I found the story fascinating and powerful. I recommend it to everyone. So many lives were destroyed by the greed of the Sacklers. Greed is destroying so much about America, but there are still people willing to fight against its effects. May the fight continue!