Vancouver Sun

Money, addiction and death

Shattering documentar­y drills deep into opioid crisis and exposes enablers


The Crime of the Century

Debuts Monday, Crave

When you hear the phrase “the opioid crisis,” it can sound like it's referring to a natural disaster with a beginning and an end. But as Alex Gibney's shattering twopart, four-hour documentar­y The Crime of the Century makes devastatin­gly clear, the opioid crisis is more than a human tragedy that has claimed half a million lives.

It's part of what America (and, to a similar if perhaps lesser degree, Canada) has become: a nation of addicts, fuelled by scuzzy alternatin­g currents of pleasure and despair; a nation of corporate malfeasanc­e; of doctors who knowingly trash the credo of “do no harm”; of regulatory agencies that no longer function as they were designed to; of politician­s who allow laws to be written for them. The Crime of the Century is a saga of addiction that could have been titled What We Did for Greed.

The first half of the film investigat­es how Purdue Pharma, in 1996, brought OxyContin onto the market and pushed it like fast food — in a way that was so medically irresponsi­ble it was morally (and maybe legally) indistingu­ishable from back-alley drug dealing. OxyContin wasn't the first opiate identical to heroin to be marketed as a narcotic for pain relief. But each pill was embossed with a sealant that allowed the drug to be time-released into the bloodstrea­m, and Purdue executives used that fact to pretend that the drug was infinitely safer — less prone to abuse — than it was. FDA official Curtis Wright allowed Purdue officials to literally write the drug's approval for him (within a year, Purdue had hired him at a salary of US$375,000). The stage was then set for the drug to be prescribed not just for late-stage cancer patients or for those recovering from surgery, but for anyone suffering from any kind of pain.

It was more or less invented in the early '60s by Dr. Arthur Sackler, who brought drugs into the age of advertisin­g with the marketing of Valium. OxyContin was sold as a quality-of-life drug, which is how it hooked thousands. And that marked a paradigm shift: From this point on, you could basically walk into a doctor's office and ask for pain relief. The Crime of the Century is a full-scale vision of how many countries addicted to pain relief, embraced the corruption of legalized drug pushing.

Gibney interviews people such as Patrick Radden Keefe, who did groundbrea­king reporting on the epidemic and wrote the new book Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty, and Art Van Zee, a small-town physician from western Virginia who was one of the first to see his community decimated and testified before the Senate, where his pleas were shot down by

Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticu­t (the home base of Purdue).

The movie shows us how Rudy Giuliani, once he left office, became a pitchman/hatchet man for Purdue, using his prestige as “America's Mayor” to lend the company credibilit­y.

And we see Paul Goldenheim, Purdue's chief medical officer, testifying before Congress that once Purdue learned that OxyContin was becoming a heartland problem, the company sprang into action.

The Crime of the Century does have a hero: Joe Rannazzisi, the former DEA enforcer who was nudged out by members of Congress bowing to pressure from the pharmaceut­ical industry. He's still on the anti-opioids warpath, though now he's working on a grassroots level, a David fighting the corporate Goliath.

 ?? GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOT­O ?? The widespread availabili­ty of OxyContin, invented back in the 1960s, helped spur a massive addiction crisis.
GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOT­O The widespread availabili­ty of OxyContin, invented back in the 1960s, helped spur a massive addiction crisis.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada