The documentary The Oxy Kingpins currently screening online at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival is an important film which highlights the Opioid Crisis and more importantly defines the medical industrial complex’s role in addicting the US. to its toxic, lethal drugs. Within the Oxy network are the pharmaceutical manufacturers, distributors, retailers, hospitals, doctors, pain clinics and street dealers who ride the OxyContin train for its mega profits.
The documentary emphasizes that the big pharma corporations who are responsible for killing Americans, have walked between the raindrops and not been brought to task, criminally or civilly. In their cool towers above the fray, the CEOs are the unseen criminals. Meanwhile, it is the users, dealers, doctors and pharmacists, like little fish in the wide net, who are caught, tried and convicted for their abuse and often illegal and unregulated distribution of OxyContin (oxycodone). Nevertheless, the pharmaceutical companies have encouraged the distributors to find loopholes in regulations for distribution. In not adhering to the regulations, opioid use has run amuck and the towns where this has been felt the most have been devastated.
Co-directed and produced by Brendan Fitzgerald and Nick August-Perna, the excellent documentary lays the blame where it should be placed. It advocates for criminal as well as civil penalties leveled on the knowing perpetrators who seek to addict their clients then absolve themselves of any guilt or responsibility while raking in their ill-gotten gains. Again and again, the theme of profits over people comes to the fore. Also, as a sub theme we note that a conservative government reduces the need for regulations and their enforcement at the behest of lobbyists. The filmmakers remind us that political parties who eschew enforcing regulations, only hold the “little people” accountable. This is doubly destructive for it punishes by abusing the public with harmful chemicals it should protect it from. Secondly, it expects that they foot the bill cleaning up the mess the unregulated corporations caused to begin with.
The filmmakers get on the inside of the crisis by elucidating the trail of evidence from dealer all the way up to manufacturer revealing that at the highest levels the willful, deceitful and criminal negligence of corporations are directly responsible for the Opioid Epidemic. Fitzgerald and August-Perna state at the end that 700,000 Americans from 1999 -2019 have lost their lives to opioid overdoses or attenuating deaths.
The documentarians reveal the most salient information by interviewing attorney Mike Papantonio and shadowing him cinema verite style as he collects information for the case he is bringing against pharmaceutical companies and distributors. He is joined with a legion of attorneys who are working the case along with Nevada attorney Bob Eglet who is trying the case in Nevada because the laws are more favorable to obtaining documents as part of a public health crisis. If they can win it in Nevada, that will open the doors to win similar cases in other states.
Through interviews, brief cinema verite shots of the Nevada courtroom with plaintiffs and defendants, interviews with various dealers and one former user, we understand what is at stake with the “Big Three” corporations who are the OXY Kingpins of the title. These are drug makers McKesson, AmeresourceBergen and Cardinal Health. Along for the ride are CVS, Walgreens and perhaps others like Walmart may be added.
These are the invisibles one wouldn’t readily associate with the opioid crisis because initially it was Purdue Pharma owned by the Sackler family that has been sued and held civilly liable, though there is a disagreement about the amount of the penalties and whether the company should operate in another form. Nevertheless, like the “Big Three” the Sackler family has not been charged with any criminal penalties associated with their pushing their formula of OxyContin and heavily marketing it to doctors emphasizing that it was a non-addictive pain reliever. Unsuspecting doctors and pharmacists initially believed that the drug was non-addictive. In other words, the Sackler family has not been criminally convicted or even charged with the fraud they perpetrated to addict and kill for the sake of billions.
By the time those in the business of pain relief discovered OxyContin’s properties, they became addicted to the profits. Sadly, the cost to cities, towns and rural communities across the nation has been in the trillions of dollars. The corporations responsible for the crisis expect the American taxpayer to clean up their toxic disaster and have lied in hearings to congress as tobacco CEOs lied with practically the same rhetoric. When asked about accountability, the CEO OF McKesson, John Hammergren, the CEO of Cardinal Health, George Barrett, and the CEO of AmeresourceBergen, Steve Collis, to a man said they “did not believe their company contributed” to the opioid epidemic.
Nevertheless, as Alex, former dealer who landed in prison insists, the CEOs of these pharmaceutical companies are the biggest drug pushers of OxyContin. Not only should the companies be held accountable civilly for the devastation leveled on families, the CEOs should be tried criminally. The intent for the suit in Nevada is to do just that on April of 2021.
Alex, now a legal businessman, ran his OxyContin business from Miami, the drug capital of the US. Alex provides the background information of how dealers like him moved from weed to heroin to OxyContin and back to heroin. And he discusses how addicted patients get fake scripts that pharmacists fill. And doctors write scripts like dispensing candy. Alex was on the lowest level in the network of how OxyContin manufacturing, distribution and retailing exploded to the point of abuse. He, the other former dealers who went to prison, Jay, the Cowboy, and user Anne affirm that it is always the “little people” the DEA is interested in. Federal agencies avoid dealing with the manufacturers and distributors who are in effect “legal” drug pushers.
The OXY Kingpins provides a valuable perspective, revealing the impact of corporations on our society’s ill-health and how willing they are to addict and destroy us for billions of dollars. This is made all the more egregious if they can put amoral, hedonistic and wanton CEOs who are concerned only about the corporation’s bottom line at the power points of the company. Look for this documentary at 2021 SXSW screening platforms and when it comes live.