Is ‘Dopesick’ a true story? Experts and the show’s creators sort fact from fiction


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Hulu’s limited series is based in part on material from the nonfiction book Dopesick by journalist Beth Macy, who has written extensively about the opioid crisis. Rosario Dawson stars as Bridget Meyer.

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Michael Keaton plays Dr. Samuel Finnix, a dedicated doctor in a small Virginia mining town who was persuaded by a Purdue Pharma salesman to prescribe OxyContin for his patients.

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NPR TV critic Eric Deggans wrote that Michael Stuhlbarg, who plays Purdue Pharma’s former President Richard Sackler, has «the creepy intensity of a Bond villain.»

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Dispatches From A ‘Dopesick’ America

Mann said as a journalist, he wasn’t in a place where he knows what’s in Sackler’s heart. He noted that, even though other executives and the company itself have pleaded guilty to crimes, the Sacklers individually haven’t been charged with breaking any laws.

«What I can say is that Richard Sackler and Purdue Pharma were very, very effective at turning this company into a turbocharged marketer,» Mann said.

Strong said he was surprised by what happened after the company and some executives pleaded guilty.

«Do they offer any solutions to what has occurred? No. They actually sell harder and push harder,» he added. «And there are anecdotes of Richard Sackler literally calling sales reps and saying, ‘You have to push even harder. You have to sell, sell, sell.’ «

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«Appalachians are real people, and they’ve suffered more than the average Americans,» author Beth Macy said. Kaitlyn Dever and Nicholas Logan portray Betsy Mullam and Walt in the Hulu show.

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Rosario Dawson in Dopesick.

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Where race fits into the story

NPR’s Deggans noted that, because Dopesick focuses on rural, predominantly white communities, the show doesn’t talk about race very much. Which means the series’ sympathetic portrayals of those struggling with addiction mostly feature white people.

«Folks who have been involved with these issues have always worried about certain types of people who struggle with substance use disorder getting more sympathy from the general public,» Deggans said, referencing a dynamic where non-white people suffering from addiction face more punitive attitudes from the general public.

Resources for people facing addiction

You should consult your doctors when possible for help with substance use disorder, and proceed cautiously. The addiction treatment industry is rife with scams and low-quality expensive facilities.

For confidential free help from public health agencies and to find substance use treatment and information, use these resources:

  • findtreatment.gov
  • Toll-free number for the SAMHSA National Helpline: 1-800-662-4357

Carlton Hall — a consultant and expert on addiction prevention — said it’s an ongoing issue.

«The reality is that there have been massive deaths associated with opioids and heroin for a very, very, very, long time in Black and brown communities around the country,» Hall said. «Yet, it was dealt with from a mostly a criminal justice and punitive standpoint rather than the public health approach, which is what we have learned to do now.»

NPR’s reporting has found the public response in Black urban communities struggling with the opioid epidemic has often differed from the response in small white towns like the ones portrayed in Dopesick.

Black Americans with addiction face higher rates of incarceration and have often been denied access to treatment and health care. During the pandemic, overdose deaths have surged among people of color.

«It was not spoken of, and therefore overlooked, so there has been a bit of a racial component to this,» Hall said.

«While we’re talking about opioids, the country has more than an opioid problem,» Hall added. «It has an addiction problem, and that is touching every race, every community, and those communities have been treated differently and are now we’re beginning to look at that and try to apply a different approaches, which I have some hope for.»

Arielle Retting and Emily Alfin Johnson adapted this story for the web.

  • Dopesick
  • opioid addiction
  • prescription drug abuse

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