Netflix’s ‘Painkiller’ is the story of Purdue Pharma and the insatiable greed of its executives, who pushed for the use of OxyContin by misrepresenting the facts surrounding it. The show focuses on Richard Sackler, who tries every trick in his book to get OxyContin into the market and make it the company’s most profitable drug. As the money starts to roll in, things get worse for the patients who get hooked on the drug, which they were promised doesn’t lead to an addiction.
One of the people affected by the lies about OxyContin is Glen Kryger. A common man who works hard to provide for his family, Glen’s life starts to unravel after an accident at the workplace. The doctor prescribes him OxyContin for pain. It starts with two low doses per day, but soon, the dose is increased, and Glen finds himself unable to function without the drug. This puts him on a downward spiral that destroys his life. If you are wondering whether Glen’s story is inspired by a real person, here’s what you need to know.
Is Glen Kryger Based on a Real Person?
‘Painkiller’ takes the true story of the opioid crisis and fictionalizes it for dramatic effect. The character of Glen Kryger is one of the fictional elements of the story, inspired by the experience of thousands of real people who were affected by the crisis. According to the CDC, synthetic opioids (except methadone) are “currently the main driver of drug overdose deaths.” Deaths from drug overdose have been tallied to more than 932,000 since 1999. The rate of overdose deaths increased by 31% from 2019 to 2020.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the number of deaths by opioid-related overdose increased from 21,089 in 2010 to 47,600 in 2017. In 2020, the numbers rose to 68,630 reported deaths and 80,411 in 2021. In telling the story of the opioid crisis, it was essential to factor in the experience of the common people, the hundreds of thousands of families that fell victim to the lies perpetrated about the safe use of OxyContin. Glen’s character was written for this purpose.
While it is not confirmed whether Glen was based on any specific individual, there are some similarities with a couple of real-life people. Initially, when Glen starts taking OxyContin and feels that it’s helping him heal, he is asked by his doctor to share his experience with the world in a film made by Purdue Pharma. He gladly agrees and is seen in the film where he tells the world how he got his life back since he started taking OxyContin. This seems like a reference to an actual film that Purdue made in 1998, where it asked people to share their experiences, hoping to use it to get more doctors to prescribe OxyContin.
As per reports, the line “I got my life back” is likely taken from the film with the same title. It was said by a man named Johnny Sullivan, a construction worker who was prescribed OxyContin after a work-related injury gave him chronic back pain. Unfortunately, Johnny Sullivan died in 2008 in a car accident at the age of 52. According to the wife, his OxyContin addiction was the thing to blame for him falling asleep at the wheel. In an interview with Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2012, Mary Lou Sullivan said, “I told my sons one day, ‘That medicine is going to kill him.’ Purdue used Johnny to sort of speak like a poster child. He was really promoting that OxyContin.”
Another similar story is that of LAPD officer Ernest Gallego. Dedicated to his family and work, Gallego had a good life until his accident in 1987. While on duty in Echo Park, a tow truck collided with his patrol car. He got a back injury and received several surgeries, following which he was put on pain medications. For two decades, being on these medications started to take its toll. Eventually, he was put on OxyContin. The addiction completely changed him, and his family watched him crumble before their eyes.
“He was having car accidents, fender benders. Very groggy all the time,” Ernest’s sister revealed. According to her, their father asked his doctor to take him off OxyContin, and their mother hid the OxyContin bottles from him. He died on March 7, 2012, at the age of 58, with lethal levels of oxycodone in his blood. At the time, he was reportedly on 80mg of OxyContin to be taken every 12 hours. His prescription bottle should have had 44 pills left, but there were only 7. In the Netflix series, Glen’s life takes a similar turn. ‘Painkiller’ likely combines these experiences and more into Glen’s story. So, while it might be a fictional element in the show, it is based on the real experiences of real people.