The Crime of the Century: Big Pharma and the Opioid Epidemic Written and Directed by Alex Gibney
In a scene in the second installment of this two-part documentary, the filmmakers follow DEA agents as they raid the house of a man in Lubbock, Texas whom they believe was selling large quantities of fentanyl. That man is eventually arrested and convicted and given a lengthy prison sentence. The arrest, however, is just one part of a much larger story that begins before the raid and continues long after the man begins his sentence.
It starts with the overdose death of a young woman. The investigation into her death and scores of other fentanyl-related deaths leads to an unassuming computer repairman named Caleb Lanier. As much as you’d like to see this man pay for the many deaths that resulted from his actions, you come to realize that he is just another addict. He is a family man whose wife knows nothing about his addiction or his connection to the fentanyl deaths. Caleb Lanier pays the price for his choices. The same can’t be said about the pharmaceutical executives, politicians, doctors, sales reps, and pharmacists whose greed and lax oversight led to the epidemic.
The filmmakers trace the origins of the opioid epidemic to a single company – Purdue Pharma. Their success is largely the result of the intervention from an FDA insider who paves the way for the company to introduce OxyContin as an all-purpose pain reliever with a low liability of addiction. Once the company has the blessing of the FDA, they are off and running using bribes, deceptive advertising, and other deceitful tactics to get physicians to over-subscribe the medication.
Other unscrupulous companies such as Insys use similar tactics to introduce even more addictive drugs to an unsuspecting population. Add to this mix a lack of common-sense regulations, politicians who promote bills written by lawyers representing the pharmaceutical companies, all while accepting large campaign donations, and you have the ingredients for a full-scale epidemic that is still causing pain and suffering.
Except for John Kapoor, the CEO of Insys, none of the big Pharma executives receive jail time. They get off scot-free with their billions in sales, leaving behind a trail of destruction and suffering.
As with any good story, there are heroes and villains. The heroes are people like former DEA official Joe Rannazzisi, who tried unsuccessfully to draw attention to the flaws in the bill proposed by Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) and Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). The villains are those who turned a blind eye to what was going on because the money was just too good.