Hollywood’s Role in Highlighting the Opioid Epidemic

MastHead Outline
October 20, 2023

In recent years, Hollywood’s showbiz has taken an interest in the opioid epidemic and the survivor stories that come with this unprecedented time in America. Many people are aware of the harrowing overdose death rates. However, detailed TV series about addiction offer a deeper insight. This understanding has been absent from local news segments and niche biopics.

The current release of these shows and opioid epidemic documentaries provides more than mere entertainment; they stand as a testament to the struggles that millions of American families silently endure, often amidst societal judgment.

Meanwhile, they also serve to spread awareness and education about the opioid epidemic, and survivor testimonies would otherwise be easily overlooked as just another sad headline.  

Man on a couch holding a remote, facing a TV, potentially selecting a documentary on the opioid epidemic to watch.

The Pharmacist: Uncovering Pill Mills

True crime fans rejoiced as Netflix released the docuseries “The Pharmacist” in winter 2020. The true story is based around the efforts of activist Dan Schneider in a small Louisianan town looking to identify the source of his son’s overdose death.

This heart-wrenching series focuses on the dangers of opioid prescription “pill mills” that became a highly problematic practice during the first wave of the opioid epidemic. Through four episodes, the series guides viewers through Dan’s journey of heartbreak, determination, and unrelenting detective work, unraveling the distressing reality of the opioid epidemic as he fights for the DEA’s assistance along the way.    

Dopesick: The Human Cost of Opioid Addiction

Released in fall 2021 on Hulu, “Dopesick” is an engaging drama miniseries, featuring a stellar cast including Michael Keaton, Peter Sarsgaard, Will Poulter, and Rosario Dawson. It’s based on the non-fiction book “Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors and the Drug Company that Addicted America” by author Beth Macy, detailing the lives torn apart by prescription OxyContin, one of the main fuels of the opioid epidemic.

The series spans eight episodes, each filled with intense cliffhangers and powerful insights. It provides a comprehensive look into the lives affected by drug companies, chronic pain, and addiction. These stories highlight the struggles to overcome a rapidly growing threat to humankind. 

TV remote in the foreground with a glowing television screen in the background.

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed: Nan Goldin’s Fight Against Opioids

Released in 2022, the biographical documentary “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” presents a niche perspective. It spotlights artist and activist Nan Goldin, exploring her contributions to filmmaking and photography. The film also delves into her traumatic experiences with opioid drugs.

Nan Goldin gained recognition for her documentation of LGBT subcultures and the HIV/AIDS crisis. She also founded P.A.I.N (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now), following her near-fatal fentanyl overdose in 2017.

The film goes through seven chapters, going through her vast activism and hard work in opioid awareness advocacy. It can be streamed on various platforms, including Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, HBO, Apple TV and many more cable apps.  

Painkiller: An Insight into Big Pharma’s Role in the Opioid Crisis

In August 2023, Netflix released a limited drama series called “Painkiller.” The series chronicles the opioid crisis, offering perspectives of pharmaceutical sales reps, prescribing doctors, and those who have experienced opioid addiction firsthand.

The show was inspired by two key pieces: Patrick Radden Keefe’s New Yorker article, “The Family That Built an Empire of Pain,” and Barry Meier’s “Pain Killer: An Empire of Deceit and the Origin of America’s Opioid Epidemic.

The series offers a stark portrayal of Oxycontin’s origin story and its disastrous impact on public health, much like “Dopesick.” The show, spanning just six parts, features numerous gripping scenes that make it compelling viewing. Matthew Broderick’s convincing performance as the unassuming villain adds to the difficulty of stopping after just one episode.

Three friends sitting side-by-side on a couch with their backs turned, focused on watching a television show.

Why Representation Through Media Matters in Combating the Opioid Epidemic

Many people are aware of the opioid epidemic from news soundbites and articles. However, most don’t know the intricate factors contributing to the millions of overdose deaths witnessed in the country over three decades.

Enigmatic, well-produced documentaries, and TV series are shining a new light on this subject matter. Featuring popular actors on widely-used streaming services, this emerging trend significantly aids in raising awareness.

People often face discomfort when confronted with an upsetting news story about addiction. This discomfort frequently leads them to either look away or dismiss the situation as just another sad drug-related tale.

By taking these true stories and injecting them into a miniseries format with familiar Hollywood faces, the truth becomes more digestible and intriguing. Through shows like these, viewers learn about the history of prescription opioids and how the risk of addiction impacts people from all walks of life, packaged neatly into a captivating sequence of events that all come together.

All these things serve to lessen the misunderstanding and stigma that still surrounds addiction, especially as overdose rates continue to break records due to street fentanyl. 

Other Must-Watch Documentaries and Shows

The narrative continues with the following titles, offering viewers educational and revealing insights into the depths of the opioid crisis:

  • “Dr. Feelgood: Dealer or Healer?” (2016) on Prime Video and Apple TV 
  • “Warning: This Drug May Kill You” (2017) on HBO 
  • “Heroin(e)” (2017) on Netflix 
  • “Recovery Boys” (2018) on Netflix 
  • “The Trade” (2018) on Showtime 
  • “Do No Harm: The Opioid Epidemic” (2019) on Prime Video and Apple TV 
  • “This Might Hurt” (2019) rent from their website 
  • “The Crime of the Century” (2021) on HBO 
  • “7 Days: The Opioid Crisis in Arkansas” (2021) on PBS 

These pieces provide further commentary on the opioid epidemic, complementing the stories told by features like “Dopesick” and “The Pharmacist.”

There’s Hope in Recovery

Opioid use disorder is a treatable chronic condition affecting millions of Americans from coast to coast. With opioid death rates steadily increasing, there has never been a better time to take the first step toward recovery.

Advancements in addiction science offer hope through effective, accessible, and affordable treatment methods. For those grappling with addiction, recovery is within reach, and it starts with taking the first step. To learn about medication-assisted treatment and the comprehensive addiction programs available at AppleGate Recovery, message or call our compassionate and knowledgeable staff today.