'Dopesick' tells the story of America's opioid crisis The new miniseries, adapted from journalist Beth Macy's critically acclaimed book, shows opioid addiction ravaging one rural Virginia town.


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Hulu's 'Dopesick' tells the chilling story of America's opioid crisis

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Michael Keaton and Rosario Dawson lead the cast of Hulu's limited series "Dopesick." It's about the start of the opioid crisis and the fight to hold OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma responsible. The new series also offers a look into working-class towns ravaged by addiction. Here's NPR TV critic Eric Deggans.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: In "Dopesick," Michael Keaton plays Dr. Sam Finnix, a physician in a rural Virginia town so dedicated he stops by the house of an elderly patient to check her medication on his way home from the office.


MICHAEL KEATON: (As Dr. Sam Finnix) Ah, looks like you forgot some.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) I did?

KEATON: (As Dr. Sam Finnix) Yeah, you left a few.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Really?

KEATON: (As Dr. Sam Finnix) Yeah, let me get you some water.

DEGGANS: Years later, he's facing a grand jury, describing how he was persuaded by a salesman from Purdue Pharma to prescribe OxyContin for less serious pain problems, assured that less than 1% of his patients would get addicted.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Dr. Finnix, did more than 1% of your patients become addicted to OxyContin?

KEATON: (As Dr. Sam Finnix) I can't believe how many of them are dead now.

DEGGANS: "Dopesick" outlines the explosion of the opioid addiction crisis from several angles. There's the doctors and patients using the drug. There's prosecutors and law enforcement trying to hold Purdue Pharma accountable. And there's the drugmaker itself. Michael Stuhlbarg plays former Purdue Pharma president and chairman Richard Sackler with the creepy intensity of a Bond villain. Here, he tells the company's board how they will create a new market for pain pills by creating a drug they say is less addictive than other opioids called OxyContin.


MICHAEL STUHLBARG: (As Richard Sackler) And for too long, the American medical community has been ignoring chronic pain, and this has created an epidemic of suffering. I propose we create a new opioid specifically designed to treat moderate pain for long-term use.

DEGGANS: "Dopesick" shows how addicts learn to crush OxyContin tablets into a powder that was highly addictive, boosting crime and destroying the lives of many who took the drug. John Hoogenakker is folksy and charming as Randy Ramseyer, an assistant U.S. attorney trying to find enough evidence to connect executives at Purdue Pharma to the opioid epidemic.


JOHN HOOGENAKKER: (As Randy Ramseyer) You know, a few months ago, we caught a doctor selling pills out of his car to an 11-year-old girl. And when we arrested him, he thanked us. And at that moment, we knew that what we got going on in coal country, similar to San Francisco at the start of the AIDS crisis - that our community is ground zero for a growing national catastrophe.

DEGGANS: Adapted by "Empire" co-creator Danny Strong from a nonfiction book by Beth Macy, "Dopesick" tells a sprawling story that hopscotches across time periods, with one scene set in 1986 and the next in 2005. It can make following the story's progress through time a little difficult. But one thing I really admired about "Dopesick" was how authentically it portrayed the working-class, predominantly white small towns struggling in the opioid crisis.


DEGGANS: Kaitlyn Dever in particular shines as Betsy, a young, closeted gay woman working in the mines alongside her father. She wants to live where she can be herself without fear, but hesitates to leave a place where she's achieved a lot.


KAITLYN DEVER: (As Betsy) Four generations of my family built America right here in this mountain, and no one thought a girl could do it. And everyone thought the mountains were done, and I proved them all wrong.

DEGGANS: Once Betsy begins taking OxyContin after a back injury at work, her fortunes change. It's the kind of harrowing picture of addiction that "Dopesick" captures with a poignant, affecting style. The series tallies the human cost of a crisis that started in company boardrooms, earned billions and then turned the country upside down in the process.

I'm Eric Deggans.


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