This image is from the official trailer for “Dopesick,” distributed by Hulu

Hulu’s newest docuseries “Dopesick” drills into details about the Opioid Crisis and the corruption involved, going beyond familiar buzz words. The series spans several moments in history. It explores 1996, following Dr. Sam Finnix (Michael Keaton, “Batman”) in a small town in Virginia, and 2003, following two U.S. attorneys — Rick Mountcastle (Peter Sarsgaard, “Shattered Glass”) and Randy Ramseyer (John Hoogenakker, “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan”) — as they attempt to uncover the truth about OxyContin and Purdue Pharma with help from Drug Enforcement Agency Official Bridget Meyer (Rosario Dawson, “Jane the Virgin”). 

The storytelling effectively portrays the major industry players in the Opioid Crisis and how they were directly involved. One of the first characters introduced is Richard Sackler (Michael Stuhlbarg, “A Serious Man”), the creator of OxyContin and president of Purdue Pharma. At first, he appears to have an honorable but unattainable goal of “curing the world of its pain.” However, his motive for creating such a ‘miracle drug’ is later revealed to be less altruistic, based more in his desire to prove himself to his family that continually overlooks and disrespects him. 

This ambition drives Sackler to acquire special FDA approval for OxyContin by promising the drug is non-addictive and safe for any level of pain, consequently encouraging doctors to prescribe the drug to their patients. This raked in millions of dollars of revenue for Purdue Pharma and for himself. 

One particularly impactful scene portrays Meyer’s initial 2003 investigation of OxyContin and the grip it had over small towns. Meyer drove to a town’s pharmacy where she saw a long line of people waiting to get their OxyContin prescription. She caught a young boy stealing a woman’s purse, and after sitting down to talk with him, she learned that at least half of the kids in his school were using OxyContin. This scene displayed the reality many poor Americans faced during the early 2000s when the opioid was first introduced to the country, and showed how many lives were ruined because of it.

“Dopesick” also shows the rural community of Dr. Finnix and Betsy Mallum (Kaitlyn Dever, “Last Man Standing”) when OxyContin was first introduced to American society. Betsy is portrayed as a motivated, closeted queer teenager living with a deeply religious family in rural Virginia. In order to earn enough money to move away to a city more accepting of her identity and her relationship, Betsy worked a dangerous job in the mines. After she suffers a serious injury, Doctor Finnix, in an attempt to help his patients, falls under Purdue Pharma’s marketing ploys and prescribes Oxycontin to Betsy in order to relieve her pain. 

With some indications that Betsy is becoming more addicted to OxyContin, it is reasonable to assume that in upcoming episodes she will become a case study of how opioids can derail lives. It is also possible that Betsy will die from substance abuse and addiction. Especially since she is portrayed as such a relatable teenager, “Dopesick” creates a character that viewers cannot help but become attached to. 

The personal narratives in “Dopesick” undermine opinions that only certain kinds of people get addicted. The show, through multiple examples, conveys how any person, no matter how careful they are or how good their intentions are when taking these drugs, can fall victim to addiction. The show removes any doubt that those who suffered from opioid addiction were simply careless individuals with little regard for their own health, and emphasizes how quickly widespread drug addiction became in our society.  

For someone lacking prior knowledge of any specifics about the Opioid Crisis, “Dopesick” has proven to be an educational and captivating watch that has shed light both on how these drugs infiltrated American society and how it has affected countless Americans in the past and present-day. The series illustrates the chilling narrative of how money-hungry individuals in positions of power can take ideas from skyscrapers to small towns and derail the future of an entire nation. 

Daily Arts Contributor Jenna Jaehnig can be reached at jjaehnig@umich.edu.