Hulu's 'Dopesick' Is Billed as Drama — But Is it Really Fiction?

Is 'Dopesick' based on a true story? The eight-episode-long drama looks critically at the opioid crisis. Does it take a documentarian approach?

Leila Kozma - Author

Oct. 12 2021, Published 2:00 p.m. ET

Based on journalist Beth Macy's 2018 book, Hulu's Dopesick takes a new look at the branding operation behind OxyContin, a painkiller whose withdrawal symptoms have been compared to that of heroin.

Starring Peter Sarsgaard, Rosario Dawson, and more, the series delves into the morally corrupt machinations on which the pharmaceutical brand, Purdue Pharma, relied. So, is Dopesick based on a true story?

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So, is 'Dopesick' based on a true story?

Dopesick aims to juxtapose the experiences of guilt-ridden doctors, people lining up at the pharmacy for more drugs, and those looking to make a size-able profit on painkillers.

The miniseries features characters like Richard Sackler (Michael Stuhlbarg), the son of Raymond Sackler and the nephew of the late Arthur M. Sackler, and Betsy Mallum (Kaitlyn Dever), a miner trying to come out as gay to her religious parents. How much of the story is real?

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Developed by Danny Strong, the creator of Empire, the eight-episode-long series takes a new look at how different people are affected due to the opioid crisis.

"I’m so thrilled to tell this story with a company as bold and as daring as Hulu," Danny told Deadline. "The opioid crisis is one of the most important stories of our time and I'm honored to not only pay tribute to its victims but to shine a light on the heroes that fought back. Laws were broken and many lies were told. The system failed us and Dopesick is going to show everyone how it all happened."

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Some characters, like Richard Sackler, take after real-life people. Similar to Beth's eponymous book, Dopesick aims to weave together different stories about people who were impacted by or implicated in the fast-escalating crisis.

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Beth Macy, the author of 'Dopesick,' served as one of the producers on the new Hulu show.

Unlike the book, which features interviews with dealers, police officers, activists, local politicians, among others, Dopesick limits its focus to the capitalist class, the success-hungry salesmen unafraid to tell big lies to land a promotion, the Justice Department and DEA employees, doctors like Dr. Samuel Finnix (Michael Keaton), and people like Betsy, who fell victim to the shameless propaganda.

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Unfortunately, it's uncertain which elements of the series have been heavily fictionalized, as opposed to lifted from the source material. Either way, the cutting topic choice and the Succession-esque treatment of the Sackler clan has already received some critical acclaim.

"The goal wasn't to tell one story, so this isn't just about the Sacklers and just about Purdue Pharma, but it's about as much as we can in eight hours tell the totality of the opioid crisis," Danny told Vegas Film Critic. "That's why there are all these different stories intertwined."

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"That's why we go to Finch Creek, Va., why we go to this coal-mining town and we see the victims of OxyContin, of Purdue Pharma, and we follow these U.S. attorneys, these prosecutors, as they build a case against Purdue Pharma, and we are able to see the evidence of the criminality of it," he added. "And then we go all the way to the halls of the U.S. Department of Justice and the halls of the DEA."

Dopesick arrives on Hulu on Oct. 13, 2021.

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