Prescription Thugs isn’t a great film, but it does break some ice off America’s addiction epidemic
“We have determined that the manner of death was: Accident – resulting from the abuse of prescription medications,” says the medical examiner who worked the case of actor Heath Ledger. It’s archival footage from an evening newscast, and the film is the 2015 documentary Prescription Thugs.
It’s a moderately informative hodgepodge of first-hand accounts (the director incorporates his own family, in which there’s a history of addiction), interviews with experts from the pharma and addiction industries, and archival clips going back as far as the 1950s.
The tone of Prescription Thugs is too often one of blaming the actual chemicals for accidental overdose deaths, seemingly missing the point that addiction is a self-destructive disease, and the drugs themselves are only part of the problem. In its own haphazard way, the documentary eventually does cover most every angle of the prescription addiction problem in America.
The film is especially commendable in its bold look at the huge financial incentives some doctors enjoy when prescribing certain pills in certain quantities. Of course, the financial gains are much greater for Big Pharma itself, and that’s depicted with conviction.
When the owner of a rehab center in Malibu, California says that 80 percent of OxyContin users use it for purposes unintended by the manufacturer, you can’t help but question the statement. It’s not out of the realm of possibilities that pharmaceutical companies do intend for some of their drugs to be abused. It’s already a given that they aren’t in the business of curing diseases, but rather managing symptoms. Mitigating the addiction epidemic certainly isn’t Big Pharma’s job, the way they see it.
But the filmmaker sounds naïve when he states, “We were practically born in church. My parents taught us right from wrong. We knew drugs were wrong, so we played sports,” and then shows photos of himself and his brother playing football and wrestling. It’s remarkable that he and many millions of other Americans consider violent sports good, wholesome entertainment. Not to mention that, as he points out several times during the movie, professional wrestling has been a major gateway to painkiller abuse among participants, including his brother.
A modestly in-depth look into the impotence of the FDA and the patent inadequacy of the clinical trial process is refreshing in a popular film of this nature. It has the potential to educate a large number of people on these important facts. An overview of the history and effects of direct-to-consumer advertising is also helpful.
A poignant story, from the author of a tellingly-titled memoir called Confessions of an Rx Drug Pusher, is included. The writer previously worked as a sales rep for a pharmaceutical company. She agrees with the filmmaker’s summary statement comparing Big Pharma and drug dealers on the streets: “There are thugs on every level.”
My upcoming novel, DEADLY PRESCRIPTION, is about a fictionalized Big Pharma that works much like the mafia, with a hierarchy of bosses and all kinds of crime, including the hits.