During the Opioid crisis, observations of increased and decreased abuse of opioids and opioid-based legal medication were seen in phases. The involved players spanned the country and every level of bureaucracy. Millions struggled to survive while a particular pharmaceutical company took undue advantage of the legal system, covering its tracks viciously to keep afloat and safe by promoting, selling and distributing a drug designed for people in tremendous pain.

Richard Sackler (played by Mathew Broderick), the nephew of Arthur Sackler (portrayed in flashbacks by Clark Gregg), CEO of Purdue Pharma, grew a billionaire with a dark conscience to save the Sackler family from apparent ruin by making a new drug designed with just a slightly strong dose of heroin with oxycodone, known as OxyContin (with its previous sister drug of a lower dosage of oxycodone, devoid of the heroine, known as MS Contin).

In this deeply emotionally gripping six-part mini-series, Netflix teams with creators Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster, who had Director Peter Berg create this ominous narration of how opium-based medication could bring a whole county or state down to its knees by simply increasing incentives for the sales representatives who were going clinic to clinic making sure patients suffering from chronic pain had easy access to these forced legal drugs. Why do I say ‘forced’? Because Purdue Pharma went after the one FDA officer to make sure the drug passed the regulatory norms despite his efforts and questions about the drug’s abilities that went against the regulations or were deeply concerning, to begin with. Strange as it may seem, one day that very same officer approves the drug and quits the FDA to work with Purdue Pharma right after. Their grip on people wasn’t just tight, it was malevolent.

What is the History of Opium?

In 1839, the first opium war broke out between China and Britain. It was fought over trading rights including the right to free trade. With Britain’s diplomatic status among Chinese officials, China enjoyed a trade surplus with Europe, trading Porcelain, silk and tea in exchange for silver. By the late 17th century, the British East India Company expanded the cultivation of opium in the Bengal Presidency, selling it to private merchants that transported it to China and covertly sold it to Chinese smugglers. By 1917, the East India Company was selling 4000 chests of opium, each weighing 77 kg. We see these operations up close in the last two seasons of Peaky Blinders, where Cillian Murphy’s immortal and evergreen onscreen presence as Thomas Shelby, MP, OBE is drool-worthy for any sane adrenaline junky (even if you are not under the influence, that’s how dangerous he is!).

During the American Revolution, the Continental and British Armies used these substances to treat sick and wounded soldiers. Benjamin Franklin took opium later in his life to cope with severe pain from a bladder stone. While this medication could relieve anything, it never proved to cure anything. Doctors and patients were tempted to overuse and abused it.

A Federal Investigator Comes Close to Tipping the Scales Until Advocate Rudy Giuliani Arrives:

Netflix and creators Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster change the dialogue around this conversation and make the victim’s family speak before each episode telling us identities and parts of true events are changed but the story of their lost ones remains true. With those tears of each parent of the victim, there is a quiet anger reflected at the beginning of the series when Edie Flowers, an ex-Federal investigator for the Attorney General’s office begins her narration of events into the investigation into an X-ray machine in Hillbilly, Virginia.

She began investigating a series of high doses of OxyContin that was prescribed to various patients in pain. As she discovered the whole network, it slowly made her suspicious. The Attorney General tried to lead her down a different road when she did not see things clearly, which eventually led her to find the crime the company was committing but was in complete denial of the act. Richard Sackler and the rest of his family were directors on the panel of Purdue Pharma and struggled to understand how to maneuver out of the grip of the Feds, who were breathing fire down their necks.

Guilt-driven parties from within the company began to crumble under the pressure of Sackler and his panel. This is what began to bring about the downfall of a company viciously attacking innocent people in chronic pain. When the abuse of this drug came to light, the Sackler family turned the dialogue on to the abusers and kept claiming the drug was safe to use. Having the best lawyers on their side, when Doom’s Day comes to the fore, Richard Sackler had Rudy Giuliani call all the way up to the White House and a settlement was agreed upon. An arrow went right through Edie Flowers’s heart. It made her question everything she believed about fighting for this cause.

The Sackler Family’s days were numbered. It was their distribution through different states that began to hurt them in ways unimaginable and eventually brought about their complete annihilation. When trials from interstate law firms started to attack the company, everything Richard believed to be true began to fall apart. His vision tore into itself and saving himself was the only option. The fact remains that this is just one drug from one company. Towards the end, the series ends with the idea that there are many such drugs that are still being legally prescribed turning non-addicts into addicts. This series is a painful yet necessary watch for anyone and everyone.


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