“Dopesick”, an opioid crisis story that needed to be “told”

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LOS ANGELES (AP) – Actor Danny Strong appears regularly in an eclectic batch of series ranging from the light-heartedness of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Gilmore Girls” to the dark corruption of “Billions.”

But when it comes to investing your time as an Emmy-winning writer and producer, there is consistency in the projects, whether the subject matter is political (“Recount”, “Game Change”) or racial. (“Lee Daniels’ The Butler”). Strong’s work is current and incisive.

Hulu’s “Dopesick” matches the model. The eight-part miniseries about the opioid crisis in the United States weaves together the devastating toll of the painkiller and the actions of those who helped it or failed to stop it. Three episodes debut on the streaming service Wednesday, with the remainder being released weekly.

“I want to work on the things that I think are important, the stories that need to be told,” Strong said. “When done right, those kinds of stories, the weight of the subject matter and what they’re trying to tell, make them better entertainment. “

While some may equate socially relevant projects with “being good for you or going to school, I don’t see it that way at all,” he said in an interview.

Michael Keaton, playing the role of a family doctor who unwittingly becomes part of the problem, finds a similar sense of fulfillment with “Dopesick” and the socially relevant films he has appeared in.

“I am in a privileged position where what I do for a living gives me the opportunity to change things or affect people in some way or another,” he said during a question-and-answer session with television critics. “If you’re talking about ‘Spotlight’ or ‘Worth’ … or other things I’ve done, I’m lucky in that regard.”

Strong spent three years researching and writing or co-writing all but one of the episodes of “Dopesick,” which was in part based on journalist Beth Macy’s non-fiction book of the same name. What he learned was revealing and ultimately infuriating.

“It wasn’t until I started to dive into the material that I was like, ‘This is just a crazy, crazy story,’” said Strong, who is also a director and producer of the show. “I was so outraged by what they had done at Purdue Pharma.”

The ensemble cast includes Michael Stuhlbarg as Richard Sackler, portrayed as the mastermind of Purdue’s expanded OxyContin use, and Peter Sarsgaard and Rosario Dawson as federal adversaries of the Sackler family business.

Addicts are a crucial and heartbreaking part of the drama, including a young Virginia mine worker, Betsy (Kaitlyn Dever), who becomes addicted to opioids after being injured. Her parents (Mare Winningham, Ray McKinnon) are eager to save her.

Some characters, including Richard Sackler, are based on actual individuals, while others are fictional or composite characters, which Strong says allowed for a more universal story.

Macy, whose full title for the 2018 book is “Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company That Addicted America,” said her work was “on what happened on the ground, from the perspective of victims and retaliators “.

A dramatization with a comprehensive view of the complex, long-drawn-out problem was overdue, said Macy, a series producer.

“It’s hard to capture in an article or even a book,” she said. The series covers “the last 25 years and presents it in an understandable form: This is what happened to our nation, and why it is still part of the reasons we lost 93,000 people last year. because of overdoses “.

That’s the estimated number of drug overdose deaths in the United States in 2020 and a 29% increase from 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Opioid-related deaths are at an all-time high, reaching 70,000 last year. While some opioid-related deaths over the past two decades have been attributed to OxyContin and other prescription pain relievers, most are due to illicit forms of opioids such as heroin and illegally manufactured fentanyl. .

The series provides context for the series of headlines on Purdue Pharma’s role and its protracted bankruptcy proceedings, Macy said.

Last month, a federal judge gave conditional approval to a settlement that would remove the billionaire Sackler family from Purdue ownership and reorganize the business into a charitable enterprise with proceeds going to government-led efforts to prevent and treat drug addiction.

A growing number of appeals against regulations have been filed by states such as California, Maryland and Washington state, as well as some Canadian local governments and entities.

“If their bankruptcy does materialize, they will be immune to any future litigation, which is viewed by many activists in this field as a great tragedy,” Strong said.

In federal bankruptcy court video testimony given in August, Richard Sackler, a former chairman of Purdue, repeatedly answered “no” when asked if he, his family or the company caused the crisis. opioids in the country. Other Sackler members have denied any wrongdoing, although their company has twice pleaded guilty to federal crimes for their opioid practices.

The seeds for “Dopesick” were planted by series producer John Goldwyn, who initially considered making a film about the crisis, Strong said. The story turned out to be too sprawling for a movie but only fair for television.

“Limited editions are really breaking through. They have been at the heart of most cultural conversations with entertainment, ”he said. “You see a lot of great writers working in this space, telling really interesting stories for several hours. You can go further than in a movie.


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