Hulu’s Riveting, Disturbing ‘Dopesick’ — Set in Coal Mining Country — Is an Eye-Opening Exposé on the Opioid CrisisCoal
If you're a student of 70s disaster movies--the best ones--you'll get the feeling you're watching one when you dive into Hulu's new miniseries Dopesick.
THE HORROR OF 'DOPESICK'
You'll also get the distinct impression you're watching a suspense thriller with notes of horror thrown in. You won't be wrong. Dopesick--based on the book Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors and the Drug Company that Addicted America by Beth Macy--navigates all those genres while terrifying its audience with the unfolding revelations--the series covers nearly 40 years--of the opioid crisis. Specifically, it's a treatise on Oxycontin--its conception, creation, and rollout--and how the drug company Purdue Pharma peddled it for a great many years as something that will greatly ease pain (true) and is very rarely addictive (not true).
THE 'DOPESICK' TIMELINE
The story begins in a star-chamber-like boardroom in 1986 where members of the Sackler family--the founders and owners of Purdue Pharma--are discussing a new painkiller that will change the world. And as we continue watching--and, of course, there are myriad journalistic accounts of the drug's potency--we know that is exactly what they did. But certainly not for the better.
With the exception of that opening and some moments in the seventh episode that are set at a Congressional hearing in 1962, the series primarily moves around between 1996 and 2006, showing us various stages of two fronts that are covered in its eight-episode run.
THE HORRIFYING REVELATIONS OF 'DOPESICK'
In one large story arc, we meet the residents of fictional Finch Creek, a small coal-mining town in western Virginia. In particular, we focus on a young woman, Betsy (Caitlyn Dever), who works in the mines and sustains an injury one day that leads her to Dr. Samuel Finnix (Michael Keaton) who wants to try a new pain medication on his patient--a 10mg tab of OxyContin.
Betsy's story becomes harrowing as we watch what happens as her addiction becomes uncontrollable. And since Finnix believed what he was told about the drug by a Purdue Pharma rep, he wasn't terribly concerned about prescribing.
In the other main storyline, we watch as a DEA agent and two members of the Justice Department begin to see a dark pattern emerging with regards to the usage of OxyContin. Its powerfully addictive properties made it a valuable street drug and many were crushing it into powder form or freebasing it. But none of these agents could get the FDA to act on the crisis unless they could prove it was dangerous AS PRESCRIBED.
As I watched each episode, I found myself unable to take my eyes off of the screen. It's a powerful miniseries that, yes, seems to take a little creative license here and there. But the core of the story--about how the addiction to this drug and its distribution throughout the country played out like a virus--is stark and disturbing.
THE FILMING OF 'DOPESICK'
Most of the filming took place in Virginia, but it was coal-mining towns that were the initial targets of Purdue Pharma's sales force. And in Beth Macy's book, she covers eastern Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, and West Virginia.
It's a quick watch; you won't be able to wait until you get to the next episode. But it can also be very difficult viewing as well.