“We doctors were wrong in thinking that opioids couldn’t be used long term. They can be and they should be.”
Those are some of the first words of Warning: This Drug May Kill You, HBO’s new documentary about America’s opioid epidemic. Intercut with grainy video footage of men and women — many of whom are mother and fathers — passed out in supermarkets, cars, and on buses, that recommendation is clearly meant to seem ominous, and it is. Those two sentences come from an aggressive 1990s marketing campaign from Purdue Pharma, a campaign which greatly helped to increase the popularity of opioid use. Thanks to this powerful opening scene, the hypocrisy and cruelty of this epidemic is apparent. This drug crisis was largely born from an industry that is supposed to help people.
For their part, pharmaceutical representatives and healthcare professionals are not given a voice in This Drug May Kill You. Instead, the documentary, directed by Perri Peltz and Sascha Weiss, focuses on awareness, leaving it up to speculation as to why the healthcare industry would continue to hand out these drugs that help with intense pain but are also incredibly addictive. However, this is such a widely ignored problem, the documentary’s single-minded focus works. Instead of a discussion of how the opioid epidemic came to be, This Drug May Kill You explores how disturbingly common it is for an OxyContin prescription to turn into a heroin addiction through three families’ stories.
This Drug May Kill You puts a face to this epidemic and explains in no uncertain terms how widespread this problem is. According to the documentary, 91 people die every day from opioid overdose. The most disturbing aspect of that statistic is how many of those cases we as a country are ignoring.