New documentary on opioid drug profiteering

Alex Gibney has a new documentary The Crime of the Century that looks at the opioid drug crisis and the shameless role played by the big pharmaceutical companies like Purdue and the Sackler family who profited greatly from the deaths of many people and the destruction of families and communities, topics that I have covered many times before. They were aided and abetted in their crimes by government officials and lawmakers who cut deals with the Sacklers and top Purdue executives to allow them to escape the consequences of their actions and retain their ill-gotten billions.

Here is a detailed review by Saloni Gajjar.

The docuseries dives into the history of how pharmaceutical companies began and fueled the crisis in the 1990s; the duplicity of the healthcare industry; and the government’s failure to stop the drug push.

The docuseries is essential viewing for anyone looking to learn about the drastic losses caused by the greed of a few influential industrialists, medical professionals, and government employees. But when tallying up those losses, it overlooks the marginalized communities most gravely impacted by the opioid crisis. At no point during its combined four-hour run time does the docuseries even mention how people of color or those from impoverished backgrounds were disproportionately affected. The Crime Of The Century isn’t about the victims of the opioid crisis but the villains of this situation, offering a much-needed look into how intense marketing pushes and fraudulent insurance claims helped cause this chaos in the first place.

The Crime Of The Century is a well-researched deep dive into the rise of the illegal distribution of Oxycontin, fentanyl, and heroin over the years, focusing on a few of the players who were directly responsible. The first part centers on Purdue Pharma leaders and owners, the Sackler family, who financially benefitted when the company started distributing Oxycontin in 1996. Their devastating decision to ignore how their drugs cause addiction and death set the course for other medical companies to do the same. The second episode dwells more on how the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) tried to build a case against several of them, featuring interviews with agents like Joseph Rannazzisi, who was kicked out of the agency after pushing for investigations of drug companies.

Alas, I will not be able to see it because it is being shown on HBO and I do not subscribe to the cable channel but I am passing the information on to others who might be interested.

Here’s the trailer.

Trevor Noah talked to Gibney about the film..


  1. John Morales says

    WMDKitty, “how so” is presumably the topic of the documentary.


    In the late 1990s, pharmaceutical companies reassured the medical community that patients would not become addicted to prescription opioid pain relievers, and healthcare providers began to prescribe them at greater rates. This subsequently led to widespread diversion and misuse of these medications before it became clear that these medications could indeed be highly addictive.

  2. Mano Singham says


    The abuses go much further than even what John describes. For example, Purdue kept track of how may pills doctors prescribed and rewarded high prescribers. They, and the distribution companies, also deliberately ignored the fact that homeports of the country were ordering stocks of these pills that were far beyond what their population needed.

    I have written about it many times before but this post is particularly pertinent about the many abuses.

  3. says

    Even if the drugs weren’t addictive, companies pushed them for profit, not public health. Ice, five cent aspirin, and rest are cheap. A $20 pailkiller is profitable.

  4. Katydid says

    I agree with WMD Kitty. Where is opiod addiction such a problem? In places where they were making moonshine and drinking paint thinner before they got their hands on opioids. The horrible whiny book Hillbilly Elegy is right that the population who used to go blind off moonshine learned they could demand opioids from their doctors at much less effort just by whining and demanding them, and the USA medical system is not designed to manage real physical problems through things like exercise, meditation, and good nutrition (and that population would never do those things anyway).

    For people in actual, agonizing pain, a “five-cent aspirin and rest” is not the answer. Have you ever seen people in real pain from cancer, from car accidents, from any number of complex surgeries, or from any other number of very-real physical ailments? What the stupid “war on opioids” has done is taken away pain relief from those with actual need.

    As for doctors gaining financially from prescribing drugs--it’s been that way for decades in the USA, and not only for opioids. It’s a real problem. But demonizing a drug that’s the last resort for patients in real and persistent pain and forbidding it because others abuse it is not the answer.

  5. anat says

    I don’t think the drugs should be demonized, they have their legitimate uses, but companies lying about their products in a way that makes consumers unsafe deserve scrutiny and consequences.

  6. says

    Where is opiod addiction such a problem?

    When doctors who have been incentivized to push it tell their patients it is non-addictive.

    I would favor legalizing some of these things for recreational use -- but there would have to be a level of informed consent. In the case of Oxy, patients were lied to.

  7. Mano Singham says

    Katydid @#5,

    I agree with the point that anat @#6 made. I know people who need those drugs to treat acute pain and they should not be denied that relief. But overprescribing and irresponsibly prescribing them in order to get people addicted so as to increase sales, as is what is being alleged with Purdue and others, has to be treated as criminal and that should be so irrespective of how the addicts are viewed.

  8. Katydid says

    The question to ask is where they have been overprescribed, and why. As the support for a person in real, persistent, and terminal pain for the past decade, I’ve spent countless hours trying to get them the only medication that keeps the pain level down to merely excruciating. Part of my support has including driving and carrying the person in for pain support groups, and it’s a common problem (at least in my area) that doctors have been reluctant to prescribe pain relief for years and years--at least the decade that I’ve been the support person, possibly even longer.

    It’s heart-rending to see a loved one lying in a hospital bed hooked up to a number of monitors with verifiable medical issues begging for pain relief, and the knee-jerk response is, “No, you’re just an addict”. It’s obvious even to a layperson that anyone in that position and in that condition would be in terrible pain, but their needs are negated because a bunch of people in Appalachia switched their moonshine habit for opioids?

  9. Rob Grigjanis says

    WMDKitty @1: What a stereotypically rightwing American response. Blame the victims rather than the sociopaths who consciously created the problem for profit. What’s next? The poor have only themselves to blame for not working hard enough?

  10. Rob Grigjanis says

    Katydid @10:

    It’s obvious even to a layperson that anyone in that position and in that condition would be in terrible pain, but their needs are negated because a bunch of people in Appalachia switched their moonshine habit for opioids?

    What’s obvious is that if doctors are withholding medication from people who demonstrably need it, the doctors are incompetent. Why are you blaming addicts rather than supposed experts?

  11. Jazzlet says

    I think what you are missing here is that the deceptive marketing of opioid drugs, such as Oxycontin, as non-addicting is a large factor in the backlash which has made it so difficult for those with genuine need of opioid painkillers to get them prescribed in reasonable quantity, and without having to jump through sometimes impossible hoops. It can be true that there is both a real need that requires opioid painkillers, and that some drug companies lied to doctors abou the addictive properties of their drugs in order to make their profits larger.

  12. Sam N says

    @11,12 Just would like to thank Rob for commentary I would have been far less polite in delivering.

  13. Sam N says

    @1,5 take your myopic views and stuff them. From the OP: “the shameless role played by the big pharmaceutical companies like Purdue and the Sackler family who profited greatly from the deaths of many people and the destruction of families and communities”

    That is the topic here, not your pet peeves with legitimate failure of our medical establishment to properly address human pain.

  14. Katydid says

    @Jazzlet, I argue that the people willing to abuse opioids for the high is what makes it impossible for people who actually require that much pain medication to get it. I tried attaching a bunch of links but it borked the comment. Places from Harvard Med to patient support to general AP stories all document how for the past decade, doctors have been wary of or outright refused to prescribe opioids--even for dying patients in intractable pain. Not just “one” doctor; it’s been dozens…hundreds, even in the USA.

    Why blame addicts? Why NOT blame addicts--addicts are going to seek whatever they can get their hands on.

  15. Rob Grigjanis says

    Katydid @16: My response to your #10 was hasty. The fault seems to lie mainly in the vagueness of law enforcement policy, i.e. the DEA, and the policies of insurers, both of which make it hard for doctors to treat patients properly, or even reward doctors for improper treatment.

    The actions taken by the CDC, FDA, and HHS are all steps in the right direction—but unless we get the DEA out of the business of determining what prescribing practices are “legitimate,” we will never have appropriate treatment for pain.

    But blaming addicts for this shambles is not only grossly unfair, but useless.

  16. Sam N says

    @16. Assholes willingness to let other humans suffer is what allows that problem. Not suffering addicts, you asshole. But keep on digging your own moralizing grave.

  17. John Morales says

    In the news:

    Criticism has centered on the unusual proposition to shield the wealth of individual Sacklers even though they are seeking bankruptcy only for their company and not for themselves.

    Under the proposals, the two branches of the Sackler family that own Purdue Pharma would settle more than 3,000 lawsuits against the company by paying $4.3bn. But the Sacklers would keep about $7bn which would be personally protected from legal action over the part played by some family members in the illegal drive to mass market OxyContin for which Purdue has been twice convicted of criminal charges, in 2007 and last year.

  18. Katydid says

    Hey, Sam N, you’re super defensive. Are you an addict? Are opioids your drug of choice?

  19. steven kaszab says

    A letter to our leaders…In USA and Canada

    Greetings. As the Pandemic is fought on many fronts throughout this world of ours, we can believe that a state of normalcy will eventually exist for Us All.

    While we all have done our best to fight this COVID-19 Pandemic we must realize that there is another Crisis that has been with Us for many years. The Opiod Pandemic. Thousands of our neighbor’s are dying because of their addictions and the availability of these drugs. The demand for these drugs existed always. The Pharmaceutical Industry answered this demand …”give Us relief from Pain”. What was done to do that? Replace our pain with a addiction that escalates with time. As our bodies get used to these opiods we need a greater fix. That was given to us. More powerful drugs with longer lasting effects upon our bodies.

    Leaders, You need to do something about this Opiod Pandemic. I know it will be difficult and most demanding upon You, Your Administration and The Medical Sector. It was the Medical Community that created this pandemic. They needed a tool to deal with our pain, and the pharmaceutical Industry gave them that tool. Were these opiods tested long term? Was their addiction qualities expalined to the medical sector and the public? Yah Who know’s! These opiods were issued out to people in pain, often in large quantities. Addictions were created, encouraged and foreseen. Huge Profits were also experienced for many of our medical professionals and their suppliers, the Pharmaceutical Industry. Who is responsible for the pain, addictions and profiteering caused by Opiods?

    Provincial Governments and their Health Departments
    Many Medical Professionals, like Your family Doctors.
    THe Pharmaceutical Industry.

    Think about it. If we look to the Cartels of Latin America, and substitute cocaine with opiods what would we have?

    Pharmaceutical Industry(Drug Producers)
    Health Ministry (Organized Crime-importers & distributors)
    Medical Doctors(The Pusher Man)
    The Public (Citizens) ( Addicts, Victims, Money Source).

    Who is going to standup for the many who have died because of their addictions and pain relief needs?

    Auditor Generals of Toronto(Beverly Romeo-Beehler), Ontario(Bonnie Lysek) and Canada(Karen Hogan) need to do something about this mighty governmental mismanagement of our Health Portfolio.
    Many Canadians have died, are dying and will die before this Opiod Pandemic can be controlled and stopped. For all those who have lost a loved one, a neighbor or friend to this Opiod Crisis, Stand up and be counted. The perpetrators are out in the open…those who claimed to be our health keepers, our elected managers. There they are. Go Get Them. Justice or Revenge, what ever you’d like to call it…seek it out Canadians.

    Fentanyl is a form of a highly lethal synthetic opiod that is spreading its tentacles across North America.
    Opiod’s were created as a souce of pain relief for those Citizens whose illnesses were most sever.

    Very popular among the Medical Sector perscriptions by the thousands were issued and written by our local family dcotor, dentists and hospital staff.

    What happened to create this horrible health crisis? Who is responsible and how can we stop its continual devistation?

    Drug dependency is very common. Whether legal or illegal. In Ontario our OHIP Health System approved use of many opiods, and our Medical System influenced by Big Pharma step in selling these new and old opiods as sources of pain relief. Doctors would sell these pills in large quantities, at least at the begining of this episode in universal medical malpractice. Now doctors are limited in issuing perscriptions of 3-5 pills at a time. Back then they were sold by the hundreds, and that was the legal sales to an individual.

    “The Dealer for a nickel
    Lord will sell you lots of sweet dreams
    Ah, but the Pusher ruins your body
    Lord, he’ll leave your
    He’ll leave your mind to Scream”

    I witnessed such a situation. My brother experienced a back injury. His family doctor issued perscriptions as much as 300 at a time. I witnessed this first hand. three bottles , one hundred each. The most addictive stuff too. Oh yah, our medical system failed to warn their clients that these opiods were very addictive and if misused could be deadly. Like the effective drug dealers this system had become, through Big Phara’s Influence, these opiods sold like hot cakes. Additction is cyclical, so taking to much creates greater demand. Need that fix. Years passed by before our medical system admitted these was a problem. Were they blind? They did not read the newspapers, reading about the many deaths due to opiod misuse? Rich or Poor, it did not matter, as pain is universal, and so is addiction.

    Our Medical System and Their Leadership are responsible for this mess. But 1st off, the Pharmaceutical Industry is 100% liable for this disaster.
    Why? Cause when you make a cake at home you know what the cake is made of, and what effect the cake will have on your family. God Damn the Pusher Man. They knew what they created. They still sold it.

    “You know . I’ve seen a lot of people walkin’ around
    With tombstones in their eyes.
    But the pusher don’t care
    Ah, if you live or die.”

    Once the Medical System noticed the continual result of their opiods sales they did what all Governments and Governmental Agencies do….react, not respond. Their reaction was to put the sale of opiods on hold and control them as they should have far before this disaster started.

    Well now we get to meet the third group responsible for this opiod pandemic.

    “You know , the dealer , the dealer is a man
    with the love grass in his hand
    Oh but the pusher is a Monster
    Good God, he’s Not a Natural Man”

    Illegal Drug Dealing. International Drug sources, corruption and Death. We all know someone who has lost a friend, family member to this Opiod Pandemic, this scurge upon humanity. Whether the sources were legal or illegal these opiods created a hunger, a need that had to be quenched. Mush of the illegal opiods in North america come from different sources…

    perscription medication sold or stolen by individuals
    Illegally made by Organized Crime(they creatively add further addictive stuff into their brew)
    CHINA and ASIA* ( large amount of illegal opiods come from this region of the world.

    * China is a huge source for opiod manufacturing, smuggling and sales. In China opiods can be purchased on the internet and delivery has improved. China suffers from this same pandemic with drug addiction a major health issue. The Chinese Police do what they can but they have a probelm. The manufacturers of opiods in China are supported and probably controlled by The Chinese Government. This opiod pandemic is a international weapon that the Chinese Communists use to their advantage and profit. Normal Chinese Citizens often don’t realize they are involved in this illicit trade. Whether a UPS / courier worker, or someone packaging parcels or working on a machine making elements of these pills, the illicit trades tentacles are everywhere.

    Canada is trying to deal with the illicit process of money cleaning, the process of taking money illegally made and turning it into legal funds. Just look at the Real Estate Market in British Columbia and Toronto. Large number of homes bought by foreign agents, and no one lives in them. Organized Crime comes in every race, creed and political persuation.

    The Opiod Pandemic has ecalating victims throughout North American Urban Centers. Multiple deaths every night. But in Rural Town America and Canada this Opiod Pandemic has brought about historic damage. While Urban Centers often have the medical officials and centers that can attempt to respond to this challenge rural communities have very limited skilled personnel and centers to deal with addiction crisis. Again, this addiction kills and manipulates US ALL.

    How do we get out of this horrific mess?

    “Well now if I were the President of this land
    You know, I’d declare total war on the pusher man
    I’d cut him if he stands, and I’d shoot shoot him if he’s run
    Yes I’d kill him with my bible and my razor and my gun”

    The above verse from Steppenwolf’s “The Pusher” maybe very visual, emotional and clear. It was written by those who experienced drugs, their effects and the horrid pushermans influence.

    Death for the PusherMan…NO. Every Society that exists is judged by how they treat their most lowly citizens, their Criminals and Their Victims.

    I have been trained as an addiction councilor long ago. After two years I was sent to another challenge. Ever looked into the eyes of someone whose eyes are empty, their noses worn away, their mouths a blood mess? I have. I had opportunities to harm some of these PusherMen. A broken arm, a punch or two but I had to see the good in every person that came before me. So do you. Sure despise them, hate them, mistrust them. Get them where it hurts. Take their money 🙂

    A pusher man if a gambler by their very nature. Danger is a rush form them. When you gamble you make mistakes.

    1.Make a Federal issue with those firms and persons involved in illicit opiod manufacturing, smuggling and sales. Since every Government is responsible for the things that happen under their control, why not take China to the World court and get them charged for every aspect of the illict opiod trade they are involved in. The FBI and RCMP certainly know who is involved.

    2. All Provincial and state Governments and their Agencies responsible for opiod sales and distribution and sales must be held responsible for this pandemic. Medical Officials responsible for their illegal sales/distribution must be charged openly. All governmental actions must be Transparent and Accountable to the People.

    3. God Damn the PusherMen. Yes The Pharmaceutical Firms that made, marketed, distributed these Opiods to Us, the accepting and unquestioning public. The only mistake we made was believing our medical officials without self research and understanding of what we were taking. Yes we must be accountable too.

    4. The Public. This opiod pandemic would not have gotrten so bad if the public did not hold themselves to some standards. Research what a medical offfical gives you. Question, demand and be your neighbor and your own keeper.

    So long ago my brother received those opiods. No doubt a lot. He did not use them for his own pain. You can imagine what he did with them. Opiods have been like money, and still are.

    The Governments of North America…Municipal, City, Provincial, State and Federal…no matter whcih must take this opiod pandemic seriously. With the COVID-19 Pandemic with us, the stress leveles we are all experiencing maybe just enough to push someone you know and love to the brink, even to take these opiods.

    We must become Our Neighbor’s Keeper. Look to your families, neighbor’s and community as a source of life, joy and fulfillment. What you love is under attack. Open your eyes, listen and act.

    God damn the pusher
    God damn,I say the pusher
    I said God Damn
    God Damn the Pusher man”

    Steven Kaszab
    Bradford, Ontario

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *