The New HBO Max Oxycontin Documentary

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Alex Gibney, the award winning director of films including Going Clear and Citizen K, has attempted to make the defining documentary on the Opioid crisis, Oxycontin, and Purdue Pharma, the maker of Oxycontin. We discussed the multi-billion dollar judgment against Purdue Pharma last year on this blog, but Alex Gibney’s new film, Crime of the Century, commits to showing the huge scale of the problem that Oxycontin and Purdue Pharma helped to create. Over a year ago, “The Pharmacist” on Netflix, told a similar story by concentrating on a few lives that were harmed by Oxycontin and the disgusting lies that were told in order to market the drug. Gibney’s film seems to be more interested in showing the scale of the problem that only began with Purdue Pharma. Calling the film Crime of the Century is appropriate, because as readers of this blog know all too well, the opioid crisis has grown at an incredible rate, and become more deadly each year as doctors take peoples prescriptions away and people eventually turn to heroin and fentanyl when they have nowhere else to turn. At places like Florida Springs Wellness and Recovery Center, our treatment center in Panama City, we deal with the wreckage from the opioid crisis, and that is done by treating one person at a time for drug and alcohol use disorders.

Crime of the Century

Alex Gibney, as a skilled documentarian, correctly surmised that he needed to show the real people and lives that have been damaged and altered forever because of Oxycontin, and opioids in general. For me, the most important aspect of this story is the fact that Purdue Pharma made It possible for literally anyone in this country to become an opioid addict, including grandma and grandpa if they went to the wrong doctor. That is the key point, as addiction can touch anyone, even as people with a genetic disposition for substance use disorder or a history of trauma may be more inclined to develop an addiction faster. One thing that worries me about films like this is that through showing the damage that opioids have wrought on our society through individual people, some viewers may look at the subjects of the documentary with pity rather than truly understanding that this could have happened to them or anyone they love. Gibney does the necessary work of showing how Purdue Pharma enlisted an army of representatives and armed them with the most insidious lies imaginable. They created a powerful opioid painkiller, and they convinced many doctors to prescribe it as if it was less addictive than the hundreds of other opioids already on the market. Many even claimed it was not addictive at all. The most common patient was a person dealing with chronic pain, even though ample evidence shows that prescribing powerful opiates for chronic pain is counter productive and dangerous. Now, a United States that is just starting to come back from the pandemic must deal with streets flooded with fentanyl and deadly fentanyl derivatives, and generations of people in crisis from addiction, depression, and other mental health disorders. Crime of the Century does not tell the entire story, as the opioid crisis is too big for one documentary, but this doc is maybe the best primer for a population that desperately needs to better understand addiction.

By Tim Cannon (Contact me at TACannonWriting@gmail.com)