In the late 1990s, the number of opioid overdoses in the United States grew by nearly triple digits. This spike was the result of a new drug, oxycontin, being introduced into the market and pushed heavily by Purdue Pharma. The Sackler family, who founded Purdue Pharma, were extremely aggressive in their marketing of the drug and it quickly took hold and grew into the opioid epidemic.
The new Hulu mini-series Dopesick is based on a book by the same name. The book was a New York Times bestseller, written by a journalist named Beth Macy. The series centers on the beginnings of the crisis, the tactics Purdue Pharma utilized to sell the drug and the devastating impact of the drug on small-town America.
The series, written by Danny Strong and directed by Barry Levinson, features competing storylines and perspectives throughout. One perspective centers on the Sackler family and their seeming disregard for the havoc that oxycontin was wreaking. The other follows Samuel Fennix, a doctor in a rural community who buys into Purdue Pharma’s misleading marketing.
The audience follows the Sackler family’s attempts to push the drug to as many people as possible, with a particular emphasis on endorsements from doctors, as strictly a business practice. They are aware of the dangers of the overuse of oxycontin, but intentionally suppress that information for their own gain.
That is harshly contrasted with the tragic reality of addiction, as lived by many of the people receiving the drug from a doctor they trust. The stark contrast between the two perspectives shines a light on the dangers of pharmaceutical corporations left unchecked.
Michael Keaton gives a powerful performance as Samuel Fennix. Throughout the series, Fennix finds himself caught in the throes of addiction while struggling with the reality of what this drug is doing to his patients. The series looks at one such patient, played by Kaitlyn Dever, who battles her own addiction after being prescribed oxycontin following surgery. The interactions between the characters serve to highlight the heartbreaking reality of opioid addiction.
This is not the first time that Danny Strong, the writer of Dopesick, has tackled a difficult topic onscreen. Much of his career as a writer, in fact, has been dedicated to handling painful truths honestly and respectfully.
Strong started his career acting in small roles, mainly commercials and guest television spots, in the 1990s. Despite being able to support himself with the work, he found that acting did not provide the personal fulfillment he was looking for. He changed direction and began to pursue work writing for film and television.
In 2008, HBO picked up Strong’s screenplay for Recount, which chronicled the legal battle that followed the Bush v. Gore presidential election of 2000. He has also written for Game Change, another political tale, as well as Empire, and both installments of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay. Strong’s work on Rebel in the Rye, a biopic about author J.D. Salinger, eventually led him to work on Dopesick.
Throughout his career writing and producing, Strong has been intentional about telling important stories, even if they are difficult. His work on this series is no exception.
As he was preparing to write Dopesick, Strong grew angrier and angrier the more he learned about the Sackler family and their hand in the opioid crisis. Despite their dishonest and dangerous marketing practices, the family had never truly faced retribution for the role they played in the creation of the epidemic. Strong hoped that telling this story would change that and serve as a warning to other places around the world facing a similar crisis.
One of the key elements of telling this story well was putting together an outstanding cast. Michael Keaton leads a phenomenal cast, including Kaitlyn Dever, Will Poulter, Rosario Dawson, and others, as they highlight the tragedy of this epidemic in small-town America. The incredible work of this cast and crew has garnered significant attention for the 2022 awards season.
The mini-series has already received a Peabody Award in the category of Entertainment, which honors enlightening stories in media, and has been nominated for a Golden Globe and GLAAD Media Award. Danny Strong received a USC Scripter Award and was nominated by the Director’s Guild of America for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Movies for Television and Limited Series.
The cast has also received copious nominations from the Screen Actors Guild, Black Reel Awards for Television, and the Critics’ Choice Awards, among others. Michael Keaton’s performance has perhaps received the most attention. He has been nominated for seven individual awards to this point and has won four, including a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Limited Series, Anthology Series, or Motion Picture Made for Television.
The team behind Dopesick has created an honest, gripping story of the tragedy of the U.S. opioid crisis and their dedication and work will continue to be recognized throughout the 2022 award season.
Photo by: “Hollywood Blvd 03.04.2007” by bossco