Hulu’s newest original series, Dopesick, is a fictitious and dramatic picture of the opioid problem in the United States. If you’re up to date on current events, you don’t need me to tell you that the opioid crisis is very real.
The documentary Dopesick chronicles the lives of three groups: those who became dependent on the painkiller OxyContin after being prescribed it by their doctors; the doctors who prescribed the drug; and the pharmaceutical sales representatives who spread false information in order to increase the drug’s market penetration. Everything you’ve heard is true.
Consequently, Dopesick’s story is grounded in reality. However, as viewers, we can’t help but speculate about how much of the show is grounded in reality and how much is fabricated for dramatic effect.
I know many of you watching Dopesick have wondered how much of it is based in reality, so I’ve done my best to address that concern. Like the next guy, I caught it.
Dopesick is based on Beth Macy’s nonfiction book of the same name, which is about the crisis.
Some of the characters in the book are based on real persons who inspired the author. Certain incidents and/or personalities have been embellished for dramatic effect.
Here is the rest of the story—and how much of it is true—in Dopesick.
Is Dopesick a True Story?
Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America is based on the nonfiction book of the same name by renowned journalist Beth Macy. The book is based on actual events and people, and Macy includes their stories.
Macy revealed in an interview that those inspired the show’s fictional characters in her book. Now technically you cannot really pinpoint one person based on whom a particular character was created.
Many of the characters such as Dr. Samuel Finnix are not based on one particular person but are very real in the sense that such a personality definitely did exist.
He is not based on one doctor working in a Virginia coal-mining country prescribing OxyContin to his patients. Instead, he stands in for the numerous actual medical professionals who did prescribe the medicine.
It is the same case with the character of Betsy Mallum. She began taking OxyContin after being injured in her job. Like the other characters on the program, she is fictitious, yet she represents a composite of several real-life addicts.
However, there is also Richard Sackler, the head of the pharmaceutical company that created the drug OxyContin in the first place. He is based on a real person. That is to say, the guy isn’t a myth.
So Dopesick is a mixed bag. Some characters and events are absolutely rooted in fact while much of it has been scripted and dramatized for obvious reasons. Dopesick, however, is based on real events and should be deemed so if I were to answer in a single sentence.
Is Richard Sackler Really as Portrayed in the Show?
The show portrays Richard Sackler as a cold and unscrupulous businessman who will stop at nothing to increase sales of his drug OxyContin. Given that this man actually existed, it begs the question: was he really like that?
The inspiration for the fictional Richard Sackler came from reading and analyzing numerous interviews and articles about the real man.
Macy and Strong went to the trouble of interviewing former and current colleagues to create a complete portrait of him.
However, he still maintains an air of mystery in everyday life. When I say that most of his persona had to be based on guesswork, I mean that even with a thorough investigation, there wasn’t all that much to work with.
It’s also worth noting that the Sacklers weren’t prosecuted for any wrongdoing, even though corporate leaders and the corporation itself pleaded guilty. As a result, this is a highly intriguing character study.
The real Sackler was taken into consideration in developing the character, but who knows? Since there are numerous examples demonstrating how cutthroat a businessman Richard Sackler was, which is also depicted effectively on the show, I believe the portrayal to be mostly realistic.
Is Keaton’s Character-Based on a Real Doctor?
In the film Dopesick, Michael Keaton portrays Dr. Samuel Finnix. He practices medicine in a remote mining community in Virginia. A salesman from Purdue Pharma persuaded him to start prescribing OxyContin to his patients.
Finnix’s patients were addicted to it, and he, in turn, acquired a mild dependence on it, beginning his own struggle with addiction and subsequent recovery.
If you’re looking for a certain person, Samuel Finnix doesn’t exist. However, many doctors have a similar background, which influenced the development of Finnix’s persona. There were many such doctors who shared a similar narrative, on which he is loosely based.
‘By fictionalizing, I wouldn’t be chained to the truth of one person’s existence,’ Danny Strong, the author of Dopesick, explains. I had free reign to utilize as many anecdotes as I liked. If I worked hard enough, I could find a higher truth that applies to everyone.
Dr. Finnix, then, is the product of the collective unconscious of many doctors, whose combined experiences have shaped him into a man whose story is similar to that of many real people. The opioid epidemic had a profound impact on their lives, just as it had on Dr. Finnix’s.
What Happened to the Sacklers in Real Life?
As is the case with most of the world’s wealthy, the Sackler family faced lawsuits over their company Purdue Pharma but ultimately came out unscathed.
The Sacklers are still one of the wealthiest families in the United States. They are now comfortably established in life, with a combined net worth of roughly $10 billion.
The judgment stated that the Sackler family might receive lifetime immunity from any civil culpability in exchange for a $4.5 billion settlement, the sale of their pharmaceutical businesses, and the cancellation of their equity in Purdue.
However, a legal challenge has been filed. The wealthy, however, are immune to such occurrences because, as we all know, nothing of the sort ever occurs to them. It seems that reality TV series about money and the rich have never gone out of style.
Challenges are temporary, but in the real world, the affluent get richer and the poor… well, no shows are made on them, so we don’t know.
The vast majority of modern-day Sackler offspring are, in fact, having completely typical lives. Not everyone in the massive dynasty has some connection to the current drug catastrophe.
How will Dopesick the Show End?
It’s too soon to tell how things will turn out, but if history is any guide, the legal action against Purdue Pharma and its executives and their conviction for their crimes seems inevitable. It might also go into how the Sackler family avoided legal trouble and moved on with their lives.
The presentation could shed light on the magnitude of the crisis and the ways in which it altered people’s lives. So, the writers have a lot of leeway in how they portray these weighty repercussions.
Danny Strong adapted Beth Macy’s nonfiction book Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America into the American drama miniseries Dopesick. Release dates for the first three episodes of the eight-part series began on Hulu on October 13, 2021.
Dopesick zeroes in on OxyContin, which the authors describe as “the epicenter of America’s issue with Opioid addiction.”