By Lynn Venhaus
Since 2000, 500,000 Americans have died of drug overdoses. Director Alex Gibney, who also wrote and narrated “The Crime of the Century,” exposes the truth in an urgent, straightforward way.
Witness one of the most devastating public health tragedies of our time. The two-part HBO Original documentary takes a sobering look at legal drug-pushing Big Pharma’s role in America’s opioid crisis.
The blame rests largely on the multi-billion pharmaceutical industry, which manufactured the crisis and earns profits from it.
Exhaustively researched, this expansive and hard-hitting documentary traces the origins and evolution of the current epidemic that is tearing families apart across the U.S.
Gibney points fingers at Purdue Pharmaceutical, the Sackler family, manufacturers, distributors, pharmacies, pill mills, corrupt doctors, people on company payrolls knowing they broke laws and government officials whose political campaigns accepted huge donations from Big Pharma.
The prolific Gibney won an Oscar for the documentary “Taxi to the Dark Side” in 2008, an Emmy for “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief” in 2015 and much acclaim for “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” last year’s “Totally Under Control” on the coronavirus pandemic and many other works.
He focuses on commerce and crime, interviewing whistleblowers, DEA agents, medical professionals and journalists, among a wide range of talking heads.
This documentary is presented in association with The Washington Post. Investigative reporters Sari Horwitz, Lenny Bernstein and Scott Higham share their stories.
Evidence on the over-production, reckless distribution and abuse of synthetic opiates is shown, and Gibney makes sure there is a human side to the story – interviewing grieving families, doctors going against the status quo, insiders and investigators. There are definite heroes, like Joe Rannazzisi, formerly of the DEA, and Dr. Art Van Zee, a small-town Virginia practitioner witnessing his community’s demisem and villains — Dr. Lynn Webster of Live Tree, Dr. Richard Sackler who avoided prosecution and Dr. John Kapoor, who didn’t. Rudy Guiliani was a hired gun for Purdue — one of their ‘Partners in Pain’ shills.
Part One targets corporate greed, revealing the aggressive promotion of OxyContin in 1996 from family-owned pharmaceutical giant Purdue Pharma and a propaganda campaign redefining pain and how we treat it.
He depicts how Purdue worked closely with the FDA to get the medicine approved for wider use, hiding the dangers and claiming it was not addictive.
The time-released OxyContin paved the way for more addictive drugs, as Part 2 shows with the losing battle on fentanyl and its synthetic derivatives. The widespread corruption isn’t surprising — but still shocks, particularly how law enforcement has been undermined (The Martino bill – look into it) and the extent to which EMTs are overwhelmed.
The deceptive marketing videos from Purdue and Insys Therapeutics are hard to stomach, as are the examples of fraud, conspiracy and malfeasance. Between 2006 and 2014, more than 100 billion doses of oxycodone and hydrocodone were shipped nationwide.
The data is astounding as we learn the details of unethical and illegal practices of bribing doctors to prescribe high doses of opioids and other leaked documents from the Department of Justice on corporate negligence.
Part 1 is 1 hour, 52 minutes and Part 2 “What’s in It for Me?” is 1 hour, 58 minutes. Every minute is riveting.
We can’t afford to look away – the human cost and fallout is too great.
“The Crime of the Century” is a two-part documentary – Part I is 1 hour, 52 minutes, and Part II is 1 hour, 58 minutes — directed by Alex Gibney. It is currently streaming on HBO Max (May 11, 12). Lynn’s Grade: A