Five questions you might have after watching ‘Painkiller’
(Credit: Netflix)


Five questions you might have after watching ‘Painkiller’

Netflix’s latest original series Painkiller may not be a terribly well-written show, but it has brought back discussions on the opioid crisis to the fore.

Painkiller sheds light on the devastating consequences of addiction and the role the pharmaceutical companies played in fuelling it all. 

It may be less impactful in its storytelling than Dopesick, which is based on the same origin story but has left viewers asking questions and looking for answers.

After watching the series, you might be left with several burning questions. So, without further ado, let’s try to answer the five most essential ones.

Is the Sackler family in Painkiller real?

Yes, the Sackler family is indeed real and has played a significant role in the opioid crisis. The Sacklers are a wealthy and influential family known for their involvement in Purdue Pharma, the pharmaceutical company responsible for producing OxyContin, a powerful prescription opioid. They also owned the Mundipharma. The family’s connection to the opioid epidemic has sparked outrage for years leading to legal action due to their aggressive marketing tactics and alleged role in downplaying the addictive nature of OxyContin.

The Sackler family’s depiction extends across multiple platforms: the HBO documentary Crime of the Century, Patrick Radden Keefe’s book Empire of Pain, Hulu’s miniseries Dopesick, the Oscar-nominated documentary All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, in addition to the Netflix mini-series Painkiller.

Apart from the Sackler family members, very few other characters on the show are not composite characters, including Rick Mountcastle and Randy Ramseyer, the attorneys who built the case against Purdue Pharma.

Who is Edie Flowers based on in Painkiller?

Edie Flowers, a central character in Painkiller, is a fictional representation of several individual investigators who did the groundwork to build the case against Purdue Pharma. Flowers is portrayed by Orange is the New Black actor Uzo Aduba on the show.

What happened to Howard Udell, Michael Friedman, and Paul Goldenheim?

Howard Udell, a key figure in Painkiller, is based on a real individual. He was Purdue Pharma’s chief legal counsel when OxyContin was aggressively marketed and distributed. Then-president of Purdue, Michael Friedman, also influential in OxyContin’s aggressive marketing, and chief medical officer Paul Goldenheim left Purdue Pharma in 2001. Udell, Goldenheim, and Friedman were required to pay a collective $34.5 million in fines but escaped prison time.

Udell, Friedman, and Goldenheim played a significant role in shaping the company’s legal strategy and response to mounting concerns about the drug’s addictive properties. They negotiated settlements and legal agreements related to the company’s practices. Udell faced legal repercussions for his role in the opioid crisis, including being charged with misleading authorities about OxyContin’s addictiveness. However, he passed away in 2013 before facing trial.

Is Purdue Pharma Still Making OxyContin? Is OxyContin Still Legal in the USA?

Purdue Pharma faced bankruptcy and legal action due to its role in the opioid crisis. The Sacklers left the board of Purdue/Knoa Pharma in 2018, and the company filed for bankruptcy in 2019 as part of a proposed settlement to address its liabilities related to the opioid epidemic. 

In September 2021, Purdue Pharma announced that it is rebranding itself as Knoa Pharma, which still produces OxyContin. Despite its reformulation to deter abuse, OxyContin is still accessible, necessitating a prescription. But it is still accessible through illicit means.

The US Supreme Court has temporarily stopped a nationwide settlement involving Purdue Pharma, which aimed to protect the Sackler family from civil lawsuits related to the opioid crisis. Responding to the Biden administration’s request, the court will also later consider whether the settlement can proceed. The deal intends to restructure the company after bankruptcy and allocate profits to combat the opioid crisis, with the Sackler family contributing up to $6billion. The agreement’s controversial aspect shields family members from lawsuits, a point contested by the US Bankruptcy Trustee, represented by the Justice Department.

Did Arthur Sackler “invent” pharmaceutical advertising?

Arthur Sackler, a member of the Sackler family, is often credited with pioneering aggressive pharmaceutical advertising techniques. While he did play a role in the marketing and promotion of drugs, the concept of pharmaceutical advertising existed before him. Arthur Sackler’s contributions, however, helped shape modern pharmaceutical marketing by introducing often conceited strategies that emphasised direct-to-consumer advertising.

This approach significantly influenced how pharmaceutical companies started marketing their products to consumers, creating a lasting impact on the industry’s practices.