Keri Anderson/Netflix Matthew Broderick in 'Painkiller'
Netflix is taking on the opioid crisis.
The streamer's new series Painkiller, directed by executive producer Peter Berg, tackles the beginning of America's opioid crisis, focusing in specifically on the actions of Purdue Pharma, which created OxyContin, and even more specifically on Richard Sackler (played by Matthew Broderick), the main man behind Purdue. Based on Patrick Radden Keefe's New Yorker article "The Family That Build an Empire of Pain," and Barry Meier's book, Pain Killer: An Empire of Deceit and the Origin of America's Opioid Epidemic, the series will follow a number of people involved in the early days of the crisis, from the Sacklers to the people trying to take them down, such as Uzo Aduba's Edie, to those affected by the drug, like Taylor Kitsch's Glen, a car mechanic who hurts his back on the job.
Keri Anderson/Netflix Matthew Broderick and Peter Berg filming 'Painkiller'
"So much of this show is the conviction of a group of people," executive producer Eric Newman tells EW. "And it was a spectacular group: Barry Meier, who was really the first person to report on this from The New York Times, Patrick Radden Keefe, who was the first person to really point the finger at the Sacklers, at least in print, and Alex Gibney, who is a non-fiction master. Then there's Pete and [series creators] Noah [Harpster] and Micah [Fitzerman-Blue]."
The series also follows a few medical sales reps, otherwise known as the people that Purdue was paying very good money to convince doctors to prescribe more of their (highly addictive) drug. For Newman, coming off his time as executive producer on Narcos, he knew this was a different kind of drug story. "Something that Pablo Escobar used to say is, 'If the coca plant grew in Virginia, cocaine would be legal. And here's proof."
Keri Anderson/Netflix Jamaal Grant and Uzo Aduba in 'Painkiller'
Unlike the story of Narcos, Painkiller follows individuals who became addicted to opioids after their doctor told them it was safe. (Because the doctors were told it was safe.) "The common variable and where the great sin is in this is that no one knew," Newman says. "They're like, 'I had a doctor telling me to do it and if you need more, take more.' It's really one of the great betrayals of public trust in history. A cornerstone of Purdue's marketing approach was, 'Let's play to the doctors because doctors are the people that the patients trust.' It's so insidious."
But this isn't the first time this story has been told. In 2021, Hulu premiered Dopesick, which also followed the early days of the opioid crisis. "It's something that we had to consider, being the second one," Newman admits. "But my hope is that, though we cover some of the same ground, it's not a lot of the same ground, and certainly tonally, we're very different."
EW has an exclusive first look at the series, which premieres on Thursday, August 10, on Netflix.
Keri Anderson/Netflix John Rothman, Matthew Broderick, and Sam Anderson in 'Painkiller'
Keri Anderson/Netflix West Duchovny and Dina Shihabi in 'Painkiller'
Keri Anderson/Netflix Taylor Kitsch and Carolina Bartczak in 'Painkiller'
Keri Anderson/Netflix Tyler Ritter and Uzo Aduba in 'Painkiller'
Keri Anderson/Netflix West Duchovny in 'Painkiller'
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