Netflix's 'Painkiller' Is a Scripted Drama About the Opioid Crisis — Is It True?

Abi Travis - Author

Aug. 11 2023, Updated 11:25 a.m. ET

The cast of Netflix's 'Painkiller'
Source: Netflix

While most people enjoy a good fantasy or science fiction story, we don’t always have to look to alternate realities for compelling, dramatic stories. On Aug. 10, 2023, Netflix released a new drama series about something very close to home: America’s opioid crisis. Painkiller is a six-episode, limited series that centers around the opioid crisis. In 2021 alone, more than 80,000 people died from opioid-involved overdose, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Article continues below advertisement

Similar to Dopesick, Netflix's Painkiller dives into events that led to the opioid crisis, which is an ongoing issue. So, are the events and people in Painkiller real? Are the events a true depiction of how the opioid crisis really came about? Keep reading to find out!

Is ‘Painkiller’ based on a true story?

Matthew Broderick as Richard Sackler in 'Painkiller'
Source: Netflix

According to a press release, Painkiller is a scripted drama that covers the origins of the opioid crisis. The six-episode series was directed by Friday Night Lights director Peter Berg. “I am really charged to be a part of such an in-depth exploration of the genesis of the opioid travesty,” Peter said. “Companies that profit off of death and addiction are fair game to me when it comes to illuminating the realities of how they go about their business.”

Article continues below advertisement

If you happened to watch the documentary series The Pharmacist (also on Netflix), then you already know a little bit about the American opioid crisis story. The Pharmacist tells the story of small-town pharmacist Dan Schneider, who began to notice more and more young people come into his pharmacy with prescriptions for “high-powered” opioids like OxyContin. 

Dan Schneider wearing a maroon shirt.
Source: Netflix
Article continues below advertisement

Schneider became one of the first people to expose the drug companies behind the crisis — and Painkiller tells the story from the other side, revealing more about the inner workings of the doctors, government officials, and drug companies who conspired to engineer the crisis in order to profit.

While Painkiller is based on real events, some characters and details included in the series are fictionalized for dramatic purposes.

Showrunners Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster wrote and executive-produced 'Painkiller.'

Micah and Noah have worked together in the past as writers and producers of Transparent. They also wrote A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. In December 2019, it was announced that they would make their directorial debut with their scripted adaptation of the graphic novel Bottomless Belly Button.

Article continues below advertisement
A still image from a scene of the Netflix series 'Painkiller.'
Source: Netflix

‘Narcos’ showrunner Eric Newman also executive-produced 'Painkiller.'

“A tragedy decades in the making, the opioid crisis has become one of the most devastating public health crises of our time,” Eric said. “Unlike other drug epidemics, born from underground manufacturing and covert smuggling, this epidemic began by prescription — dispensed by doctors, approved by government regulators, and promoted by a family-owned pharmaceutical giant that made billions while betraying the trust of patients and the public.”

Article continues below advertisement

'Painkiller' leans heavily on material from leading investigative journalists.

Patrick Radden Keefe (an American writer and investigative journalist) and Barry Meier (Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist) will consult on Painkiller. Patrick wrote “The Family That Built an Empire of Pain” for The New Yorker — an exposé of Purdue Pharma’s part in the crisis.

Article continues below advertisement

Barry literally wrote the book on the opioid crisis. It’s called (appropriately enough) Pain Killer: An Empire of Deceit and the Origin of America’s Opioid Epidemic. Showrunner Eric Newman said that the show’s narrative (written by Micah and Noah and based on the work of Patrick and Barry) is “heartbreaking and terrifying.”

Producers selected quite the talented cast to tell the story. They provide an accurate depiction of how the Sackler family and Purdue Pharma used opioids for the personal gain, even if it meant putting millions of lives in harms way.

Matthew Broderick was given the lead role as Richard Sackler and Uzo Aduba as Edie Flowers. The series also features West Duchovny as Shannon Schaeffer, Sam Anderson as Raymond Sackler, and Taylor Kitsch as Glen Kryger.

Painkiller is now available to stream on Netflix.

More from Distractify

Latest Netflix News and Updates

    Opt-out of personalized ads

    © Copyright 2024 Distractify. Distractify is a registered trademark. All Rights Reserved. People may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website. Offers may be subject to change without notice.