In the new “Dopesick” series, which premieres on Hulu on October 13, Michael Keaton plays Samuel Finnix, a salt-of-the-earth country doctor in the Appalachians. He is initially skeptical when Billy, a sales representative for Purdue Pharma, offers samples of a new pain reliever called OxyContin. Dr Finnix is worried about pill abuse, but Billy, played by Will Poulter, assures him the drug is not addictive, and points out that the FDA even made a special label saying so.
It turns out that Purdue Pharma was involved in the writing of this FDA label. OxyContin was extremely addictive and through aggressive sales and shameless deception, the now infamous Sackler family and their business sparked an epidemic that has killed 500,000 people since 1999, according to the CDC.
“Dopesick” was created by Danny Strong, an actor, writer and producer who wrote the scripts for the HBO films “Recount” and “Game Change”, as well as “Lee Daniels’ The Butler”. He also co-created the hit Fox series “Empire”.
In “Dopesick”, Strong weaves several plots to show how the Sacklers made billions promoting death. And it follows federal officials who have worked for years to expose the lies and deceptions of Purdue Pharma.
Strong eventually teamed up with investigative reporter Beth Macy, who wrote the 2018 bestselling book “Dopesick.” Strong had taken an interest in the subject earlier that year, during a meeting with producer John Goldwyn.
“When you start to read about Purdue’s crimes and the extent of their lies and how they mislabeled and manipulated, peddled influence, you just can’t believe it. You just can’t believe what they did, ”Strong says.
“The whole story is so shocking, I just had to figure out how to get it told in a mainstream way.”
This part took a long time.
Given his previous work, Strong believed his idea for a series would be greeted with open arms, especially once he teamed up with “Dopesick” writer Beth Macy.
Strong says, “I walked around these grounds like, ‘I’m going back to my non-fiction roots! Like ‘Recount’ and ‘Game Change!’ And I have a bestselling book! ‘”
But the reaction? “Nobody cares.” Oh, ‘Recount?’ Cute. That was 14 years ago, you know?
Hollywood can be cold, although Strong did eventually get an offer from FX. Although in the end, it was Hulu that made the series. After the streamer said yes, the pieces started to fall into place. They picked Michael Keaton and hired director Barry Levinson for the “Dopesick” pilot.
Strong tells KCRW of his attempt to find the humanity of Richard Sackler, the person behind Purdue’s relentless OxyContin strategy, and his race to beat Netflix, which also has an opioid epidemic project underway.