The true story of how giant pharmaceutical company Purdue was at the centre of the opioid prescription painkiller crisis in America, told through the experiences of those who became addicted to their game-changing drug OxyContin, those who created and marketed it, and the investigators who exposed its lethal dangers.

Streaming on: Disney+

Episodes viewed: 3 of 8

James Comey (Adam Fristoe), famous director of the FBI in the Trump era, pops up in episode two of Dopesick, when, as then deputy attorney general, he summons two prosecutors investigating big pharma corporation Purdue in 2005, to ask why they’re on the trail of “the chicken guy”. Turns out Comey was confusing poultry processing company Perdue, spelled with an “e”, with opioid drug manufacturer Purdue. It’s a rare moment of almost goofy comedy in what is, for the most part, a bleak but engrossing account of horrendous corporate greed. It also actually happened. Luckily, said prosecutors Rick Mountcastle (Peter Sarsgaard) and Randy Ramseyer (John Hoogenakker) continued their dogged pursuit of Purdue, and their inquiries form the most urgent strand of Dopesick’s sprawling narrative.

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As well as these real-life investigators, the series interweaves an array of fictional characters representing different sides of the OxyContin story, the most complex of which is Michael Keaton’s earthily authentic doctor. He thinks he’s doing the right thing by prescribing the drug to his patients, including a lesbian mineworker (Kaitlyn Dever), whose sexuality is explored in an admittedly affecting sub-plot, which also feels like it’s helping stretch the narrative to its eventual eight-hour running time. The most startling character is Richard Sackler, the all-too real Purdue big cheese, portrayed by Michael Stuhlbarg as a borderline psychopath who whispers messianic statements such as, “We’re going to cure the world of its pain.”

Like many prestige TV dramas these days, Dopesick constantly jumps around in time, but, in this case, the fractured storytelling works. One minute, Sackler is smugly telling his complacent board members that OxyContin isn’t addictive, the next we’re shown the desperate patients years later, hopped up on the opioid at a pain clinic. It’s but one of many horrific moments in what promises to be an impressively clear-eyed account of corporate evil.

Based on early episodes, Dopesick is a (mostly) sober, compelling and clear dramatisation of one of the most shameful examples of big pharma wrongdoing in recent history, which will have you recoiling in fury.

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