‘Dopesick’ Chronicles the Opioid Disaster

The shocking story of how the opioid crisis — the cause of 96,000 deaths in the past 12 months alone — was started (and encouraged) by a single family looking for maximum profits has been told in some strong documentaries, from Alex Gibney’s 2020 “The Crime of the Century” to the 2016 “Frontline” report “Chasing Heroin.” But screenwriter Danny Strong, who has excelled in dramatizing recent history in films like “Recount” and “Game Change,” may have succeeded in creating the most compelling use of the material in the new limited series “Dopesick” (Hulu, streaming).

Based on Beth Macy’s bestseller of the same name, it follows several threads of the story of Purdue Pharma, from the calculations of Richard Sackler (presented in a chilling performance by Michael Stulhbarg), to Peter Sarsgaard and John Hoosenakker as federal prosecutors who doggedly pursue troubling cases of rural death and crime caused by the OxyContin so fiercely sold. Will Poulter portrays a salesman who did what he could to sell as much of the drug, at increasingly higher doses, as he could. But also there’s the teen who never meant to become an addict (the terrific Kaitlyn Dever) and the country doctor who eschews pressure to freely prescribe it, until he needs it himself (Michael Keaton in one of his strongest roles).

The eight episode mini-series not only explains well the intricacies of the crime and its many effects, it’s a gripping modern tale of capitalism over all else, presented in a way that a wide audience can appreciate. 

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