Netflix’s ‘Painkiller’ tells the true story of the opioid crisis from a fictional lens. We watch the events unfold from the perspective of Richard Sackler at of Purdue Pharma, who comes up with the idea of OxyContin; Edie Flowers, an investigator for the US Attorney’s Officer; Glen Kryger, a family man whose workplace injury introduces him to OxyContin; and Shannon Schaeffer, a pharmaceutical sales rep who works for Purdue. The different points of view shed light on the experience of all kinds of people whose lives were affected by Purdue and OxyContin.
To tell this story, the series takes artistic license and fictionalizes some characters and events for dramatic purposes. However, at the beginning of every episode, it introduces the audience to a real-life victim of the opioid crisis to remind the audience that this is not just a story on their TV screen. This is a very real thing that has claimed thousands of lives. Elizabeth’s was one of them. Here’s what you should know about her.
How Did Elizabeth Die?
At the beginning of the fourth episode of ‘Painkiller,’ we meet Elizabeth’s mother, who reveals that she died of her addiction to OxyContin. No more information is revealed about how Elizabeth got on OxyContin, whether she was prescribed it due to some injury or illness. Whatever the reason behind her initial use of OxyContin, it was the highly addictive nature of the drug that got her into the spiral and eventually claimed her life.
When Purdue Pharma first introduced OxyContin to the world, they claimed that the drug was more potent than any other prescription drug on the market. Its effects were believed to last about 12 hours, giving the patients a long window of reprieve to get back to everyday life without being in constant pain. It was further claimed that OxyContin has significantly less chance of becoming an addiction despite its potency. Purdue’s aggressive marketing campaign ensured that the doctors were convinced about the drug’s potency and safety and encouraged them to prescribe it to all their patients, regardless of whether their problem was minor and could be solved by other means.
As OxyContin became a success, all the lies spurned around it came to light. An investigation by The LA Times revealed that OxyContin didn’t necessarily work in the 12-hour window. For many people, it wears off more quickly, leading the doctors to either increase the frequency for the same dosage of medication or increase the dosage for the same frequency. It was also found that OxyContin has a similar chemical composition to heroin, which increases the possibility of addiction.
The investigation relied on confidential documents and records of Purdue to reveal that the company was not in the dark about the effects of OxyContin. They knew about the early wearing off of the drugs and had been warned about OxyContin’s addictive nature by doctors, who often shared their concerns with Purdue’s sales reps. For the complaints of its effects wearing off before 12 hours, the doctors were advised to increase the dosage for their patients, which, research shows, creates a greater possibility of overdosing.
The unregulated use of OxyContin and Purdue’s ineffectiveness in paying attention to the problem led to the opioid crisis, which has washed over the country in three waves, evolving from OxyContin to heroin to fentanyl. According to the World Health Organisation, of about 500 000 deaths caused by drug use, more than 70% are opioid-related. Reportedly, between 2010 and 2018, opioid-related deaths in America increased by 120%, and the numbers soared during the Covid-19 pandemic. Netflix’s ‘Painkiller’ looks into the origin and cause of this crisis to inform the audience and educate them about the use of opioid drugs like OxyContin.