Matt Ellison: Is He Based on a Real Cancer Patient?

Netflix’s ‘Pain Hustlers‘ explores the impact of pharmaceutical and drug-producing companies on the addiction and overdose problems that take the population by storm. With Zanna Therapeutics at its narrative center, the show follows the story of Liza Drake, a sales representative assigned the task of selling the company’s breakthrough cancer pain medication, Lonafen, to doctors. Despite Liza’s lack of experience in the field, the single mother of one makes up for it in sheer desperate ambition and helps Zanna Therapeutics climb the industry ladder.

Nevertheless, as Lonafen continues to be prescribed off-label, it causes hordes of trouble for the patients who quickly become addicted to the drug, Liza fails to ignore her conscience and takes a stand against Zanna and its founder, Jack Neel’s lack of ethics. Matt Ellison, one of the first people to be put on Lonafen, becomes instrumental in Liza’s dawn of realization about the drug’s ill effects. As such, viewers must wonder if the man has a connection to any real-life patients who fell victim to the same situation. Here’s everything you need to know!

Jeffrey Buchalter is the Possible Inspiration For Matt Ellison

‘Pain Hustlers’ is loosely based on an eponymous book by Evan Hughes as well as his New York Times Article about the Opioid Crisis and Insys Therapeutics’ contribution to the same. Therefore, even though the film equips fictional characters and dramatized recreations of instances inspired by reality, an obvious connection remains between its fictitious elements and real life. Thus, we can conclude that Jeffrey Buchalter possibly served as an inspiration for Matt Ellison’s character.

Buchalter, an Iraq war vet, was one of the many people who fell victim to addiction due to over-prescription of Subsys, Insys’ pain medication reminiscent of Lonafen, as depicted in ‘Pain Hustlers.’ Buchalter’s military service brought numerous complications in his life, including physical and mental issues. To combat the same, the veteran’s doctor, Dr. William Tham of Annapolis, prescribed Subsys, an opioid painkiller, to him.

Nevertheless, since the medication was approved for breakthrough cancer pain exclusively, it led to grave repercussions in Buchalter’s life. In his testimony, Buchalter revealed Tham’s prescriptions to him consisted of 19,000 micrograms of Subsys per day. Furthermore, according to his attorney, Aaron Moore, the man singlehandedly contributed around $1 million to Insys’ profits. Soon, Buchalter became addicted to the drug and had to detox medically at Fort Belvoir in 2016.

A hospital specialist commented on Buchalter’s situation, stating, “I am frankly astonished at the amount of opioids the patient has been prescribed.” Likewise, Buchalter also discussed his experience comparing Dr. Tham and Insys Therapeutics to “the unknown enemy” and Subsys to “the weapon.” He added, “I had become a full-blown addict and didn’t even know it. I became absent from life and again without knowing why or how.”

Comparatively, Matt Ellison’s character, also a war veteran, shares a story similar to Buchalter’s. Still, one crucial exception remains since, in Ellison’s case, Lonafen’s medication flow started for its intentional purpose of medicating his cancer breakthrough pain. While the same departs Ellison’s story with Buchalter’s lived experience and distances him from the latter, it also presents another facet of an adjacent experience.

As such, Ellison’s character presents a more rounded account of people’s real-life stories. In that regard, Ellison’s character, differing from Jeffrey Buchalter in some key aspects, remains cemented in fiction. Nonetheless, he is an evident amalgamation of different experiences— including Buchalter’s— brought to the screen to parallel a real-life tragedy.

Read More: Pain Hustlers: Nathan Lydell is a Combination of Insys’ Speaker Program Doctors