Presented in association with the Washington Post, whose reporters are prominently featured, “Crime of the Century” at times plays like a glossy thriller. At the core of that sits the Sackler family, the proprietors of OxyContin maker Purdue, who have been spared prosecution despite a 2007 settlement in which the company agreed to pay a $600 million fine — an outcome that Gibney (who also narrates the piece) describes as “the illusion of justice.”
The interviews include a sales rep who expressed concern about over-prescribing the drugs recalling being told, “It’s not your job to be a policeman.” Yet policing — in the form of government regulation — was also swayed against taking action, with some later becoming lobbyists and advocates for companies that they had investigated.
As scientists interviewed note, the drugs themselves were designed principally to ease discomfort associated with end-of-life care, but companies realized the market would be far larger if opioids were prescribed for all kinds of pain.
The devastating consequences of that are illustrated via testimonials about the horrors of OxyContin addiction, sometimes related by loved ones left behind. Other notable voices include West Virginia doctor Art Van Zee, who pushed back against the drug companies; and Dr. Lynn Webster, whose Life Tree Pain Clinic — representing another business that flourished during the epidemic — was associated with multiple patient overdose deaths.
As Gibney puts it, the truly awful aspect of the opioid crisis is that it was “manufactured,” dispensing 100 billion pills between 2006 and 2014. “Did the companies really think that all those pills were for back pain?” Gibney asks.
The question lingers, as do the consequences suffered — and just as significantly, avoided — in conjunction with “The Crime of the Century.”
“Crime of the Century” will air May 10-11 at 9 p.m. on HBO, which, like CNN, is a unit of WarnerMedia.
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