While watching The Dropout with a good friend of mine, she recommended Dopesick the show to me. Seven episodes in, I found myself so absorbed in the fabricated stories that I wanted to dive immediately into the true story that inspired the acclaimed miniseries. Naturally, I binged it on audible, and then watched Episode 8. So, we’re in for another double review.
For more reads about the Sacklers and the opioid epidemic, I highly recommend the incredibly well-researched and infuriating, Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe.
DOPESICK: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America by Beth Macy (2018)
Genre: Adult non-fiction
Year Released: 2018
Trigger warnings: Drug abuse, addiction, suicide, mental health crises, poverty, self-harm, vomiting, child neglect, death of relatives (parents and children)
I definitely did not capture all the trigger warnings for this book, so even with that incomplete list, please proceed with caution. It does not shirk the details.
This book follows the community of Roanoke and key players like Dr. Van Zee trying to find solutions to a seemingly unconquerable demon that is opioid addiction. The stories presented have relatively narrow scope, but Macy takes care to show all the different facets, such as the shift in the conversation when different socio-economic groups were affected and the race aspects of the war on drugs that exacerbates the reasons why the true villains, the Sacklers, will likely suffer no true consequences. But this book doesn’t focus on them as key players, but more as boogeymen who set this whole disaster in motion.
The empathy from start to finish is tangible and impressive. There’s no moral condemnation from Macy on behalf of those affected, but a lot of demands for justice from the drug manufacturers. It’s hard to read these accounts without being angry at the Sacklers while also not feeling angry on behalf of people with chronic pain who need drugs like Oxycontin if it wasn’t so demonically marketed.
The Sacklers are ghouls, and as easy as it is to be angry at them, there is so much work to be done in terms of healing both communities and individuals. This account asks the reader to remember the real people affected, despite the ghouls who likely will never suffer any real consequences.
DOPESICK: The Show
Show link: Hulu
Trigger warnings same as for the book
The acting on this show is absolutely next level. Unlike The Dropout, there was some attempt to present certain characters, namely the Sacklers, resemble their real life counterparts. I have to applaud Michael Stuhlbarg for his performance as Richard Sackler because the man is a ghoul and his performance leaned hard into that. I found myself getting as angry at that family as when I was reading Empire of Pain, which is quite a feat given that Dopesick does allow for some narrative distance.
What was really interesting is how the show combined stories into singular characters throughout the narrative. The mapping is really easy to follow, especially since I listened to the book essentially while watching. Betsy and Dr. Fennix are a blend of several stories from the source material. Even though I had been somewhat spoiled for the anecdotes because I was watching the show, but both still caught me off-guard with genuine tears and true investment. Both are deeply empathetic to the people of Appalachia whose communities have been destroyed by OxyContin. There are sequences at the end that show the protests, and I got chills.
A compelling mini-series with acting that leaves you as enraged as if it’s a documentary and not a dramatic presentation of a complicated issue with a frightening straightforward origin.