The latest stab at telling the nation's opioids story is not about Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family. David Yates' Pain Hustlers, starring Emily Blunt, instead focuses on Insys but fictionalizes the names. For instance, Andy Garcia plays the fiendish Pharma svengali, a Dr. Neel based on Insys founder John Kapoor.
In 2020, Kapoor was sentenced to 66 months in jail for bribing doctors and getting patients addicted to their Fentanyl spray Subsys. Four others were convicted and the company was declared backrupt.
You really wouldn't know this until the end of the movie, now streaming at Netflix, which is not a spoiler since otherwise it's hard to know who or what Pain Hustlers is all about.
Pete (Chris Evans) meets Liza (Blunt) at an adult club; she's working the pole. He offers her a job in sales at Zanna Therapeutics known for the cancer-pain med Lonafin. The goal is to get doctors to prescribe the drug. We've seen this already play out in Dopesick on Hulu and Painkiller, also on Netflix.
Liza uses her good looks and aggressive personality to persuade one doctor after another to be pawns in the company's strategy to increase drug sales and profits (docs received kickbacks). "The doctors were just as greedy and horny as everyone," she says.
However, Liza grows concerned when Zanna starts encouraging docs to write "off-label scripts" for other pain issues like migraines.
Like Matthew Broderick's Richard Sackler in Painkiller, Garcia's Dr. Neel, the mad chemist who created Lonafin, gets progressively weirder, though he does back Liza when a staffer reveals her past which includes a felony conviction for selling "THC gummies, some to people with chronic pain."
Pain Hustlers is short on suffering. Unlike in the aforementioned series and movies, it's more assumed that thousands have died of overdoses from pain meds like Fentanyl, OxyContin and Vicodin. Short black & white vignettes point this out.
Liza inevitably turns on Zanna. She's one of the company execs who was sentenced to from 15 to 66 months (she got the most lenient sentence for providing evidence).
This somewhat glib flick ends with the Insys reveal and the company's infamous rap video promoting Subsys.
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