Painkiller EP Eric Newman & author Barry Meier on dramatizing the origin of the opioid crisis

by W. Andrew Powell

The opioid crisis devastated families across North America, and especially in the United States, and it’s a story that took a long time to get any attention. Netflix’s Painkiller looks at the origin of the story, and the pain one drug in particular caused.

Created by Purdue, OxyContin was a drug marketed like a cure-all, as if it had little risk of addiction, but the truth was very different, and we get a look at that story in Painkiller.

Based on the journalist and author Barry Meier book, Pain Killer, and the New Yorker Magazine article “The Family That Built the Empire of Pain” by Patrick Radden Keefe, the new series is a striking portrait of a man and his company that put profits and success over everything else.

Executive Producer Eric Newman, and Meier, who worked as a consulting producer on the limited series, sat down and talked about making sure the series really respected the heart of the story.

Matthew Broderick as Richard Sackler

“It’s truly dawning on me how much was at stake when we embarked on this, honouring Barry’s work, which is a towering achievement of investigative journalism–probably the most important investigation that we’ve seen in the past 25 years–to get to the bottom of a massive betrayal of public trust that’s affected millions of people and continues to affect them,” Newman said.

“There was a challenge not just in being true to that and honouring that, but also ensuring that we reach the widest possible audience and not for any other reason, but sharing this information that had people, beginning in the late nineties when people understood what they were being sold, what they weren’t being told, if they had had that information, it would have saved hundreds of thousands of lives.”

“As a journalist,” Meier said, “you never know whether your work will endure, or whether any of it will endure. In 2003, when I wrote Pain Killer, I wrote it to sound an alarm and it disappeared immediately. No one wanted to hear it. No one wanted to pay attention to it. It was crushed by silence.”

“So for me to watch everything that’s happened over the next two decades, to have to see all the lives that were lost, the failure of of all the levers of power in our society–doctors, regulators, lawyers–failed to stop this carnage. To finally see this story told in a deserving way in this show, it’s extraordinarily gratifying.”

“I hope this show does honor to them and does honor to these families and to the memories of those who didn’t make it.

Painkiller stars Uzo Aduba, Matthew Broderick, Taylor Kitsch, Dina Shihabi, and West Duchovny. Watch the full interview with Eric Newman and Barry Meier above, and stream the limited series on Netflix.

John Rothman as Mortimer Sackler, Matthew Broderick as Richard Sackler, Sam Anderson as Raymond Sackler in Netflix's Painkiller
John Rothman as Mortimer Sackler, Matthew Broderick as Richard Sackler, Sam Anderson as Raymond Sackler in Netflix’s Painkiller

Images courtesy of Netflix.

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