‘The Crime of the Century’ Review: Alex Gibney’s HBO Doc Will Leave You Gasping in Horror

I misplaced observe of what number of occasions I gasped in horror whereas watching HBO’s The Crime of the Century. Alex Gibney‘s two-part, four-hour-long documentary looks at the roots of America’s opioid epidemic. While opium dependancy has been a scourge for hundreds of years, over 500,000 Americans have died of overdoses in the final twenty years alone. Gibney examines the trigger for this explosion in dependancy and discovers that the so-called opioid disaster is in reality against the law. Or, to place it extra precisely, an amazing internet of crimes. The Crime of the Century is a troublesome, sorrowful exploration of how widespread avarice led to mass homicide and why nobody appears keen to cease it.

The Crime of the Century is the newest searing documentary venture from Oscar- and Emmy-winning director Alex Gibney. Gibney is best-known for his work exposing corruption. He directed Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, and the juicy Elizabeth Holmes doc The Inventor: Out For Blood in Silicon Valley. In every of these tasks, Gibney chipped away at the psychology (and paper trails) that disguise wrong-doing in plain sight. And in every of these tasks, Gibney had clear reduce villains to hold blame on. The underlying horror in The Crime of the Century is that opioid epidemic doesn’t have only one villain. It has numerous villains, many of whom are sarcastically victims of opioid dependancy themselves.

Any dialogue about the authentic sin that sparked the opioid epidemic, nonetheless, normally factors to the Sackler Family. The Sacklers began off as three formidable brothers who wished to assist individuals with pharmaceutical options. Hence, they purchased Purdue Pharmaceuticals in the early Fifties and set off on altering the means medicine had been talked about and allotted in America eternally. (Those ubiquitous prescription drug advertisements on TV? The Sacklers pioneered these.) By the Nineteen Nineties, the Sacklers’ largest “hit” drug was a controlled-release morphine tablet referred to as MS Contin, which was primarily used to deal with most cancers ache. As journalist Patrick Radden Keefe explains in The Crime of the Century, when Purdue’s patent on MS Contin was developing, they bought the thought to translate the “Contin” technique of enclosing a tablet’s pain-relieving energy in a controlled-release shell to the highly effective prescription opioid oxycodone. The thought was that by controlling the launch of the opioid, sufferers wouldn’t get addicted.

Close up of a poppy in The Crime of the Century on HBO
Photo: HBO

It’s a good suggestion in idea, however in apply, you may crush the capsules and snort them. You might take greater than you had been prescribed. You might finally have your prescription cancelled by a well-meaning physician and discover your want for the drug’s excessive pushes you to buy heroin on the avenue. So it’s truly a extremely dangerous thought. Worse, the Sacklers engineered an aggressive advertising and marketing plan to push this new money-making drug, OxyContin, to a wider viewers than sometimes can be prescribed opioids. You see, opioids are normally reserved for end-of-life sufferers. The Sacklers argued that folks residing with again ache or knee accidents additionally deserved freedom from ache. And that OxyContin might grant that peace.

What was actually occurring was {that a} extremely highly effective and addictive drug was being prescribed to sufferers who didn’t want a pain-killer of that magnitude. And because it was extremely addictive, OxyContin was a tablet that trapped sufferers in a cycle the place they couldn’t break away of needing extra…till overdose and demise. It was an enormous moneymaker for Purdue and legions of different pharmaceutical firms hoping to get in on the racket.

Ultimately, Gibney reveals that the Sacklers weren’t the solely menaces in this example. The flames of opioid epidemic had been fanned by grasping public officers blissful to take bribes from Purdue in order to fudge FDA rulings and medical doctors who noticed a solution to make a fast buck. Ambitious pharmaceutical reps used predatory ways to slip opioids into sufferers’ arms. And every time the DEA discovered a solution to crack down, the opioid disaster would erupt in new, terrible methods, like the heads of a hydra.

Close up of pills in The Crime of the Century on HBO
Photo: HBO

The strongest moments in The Crime of the Century come from the tales of individuals caught up in the tsunami of damage the opioid epidemic created. One widower shared not solely the story of how his beloved spouse bought hooked on prescription opioids, however photographs of her handed out on the medicine. Eventually, her dependancy was fueled by a distinguished physician who pushed opioids as a cure-all for ache, Dr. Lynn Webster. In interviews with Webster, he appears to imagine it was his obligation as a physician to take sufferers’ ache away in any respect prices. However, the aggressive tablet regime he gave sufferers paints him extra like a drug vendor. It’s a comparability made all the extra terrible whenever you study the insane quantity of sufferers who died of overdoses on his watch.

But Webster, like the Sacklers, isn’t the solely individual Gibney implicates. There are tales of strip mall tablet mills, manned by sketchy medical doctors in Florida. Home-made fentanyl labs inadvertently created by addicts in search of their very own excessive that go on to kill entire communities. Sadistic small pharma bosses who cease at nothing to push ridiculously lethal medicine. Former DEA officers who turned coat for money and helped the pharmaceutical firms rig the regulation in their favor. There’s even the revelation that not a single member of Congress (nor Presidents Obama or Trump) did something to cease the passage of a invoice that revoked protections on customers. It’s a parade of evil and nobody needs concerned appears to wish to settle for accountability.

The huge scale of the opioid epidemic’s evil is what makes it so horrifying, however it’s additionally the one narrative subject I had with the documentary. Because Gibney is dedicated to displaying the full scope of opioid-related sin, it’s exhausting to hold our anger on one singular social gathering. Gibney’s hottest previous documentaries left us understanding who the villains had been and who the victims had been. The traces get blurred in relation to the opioid disaster in half as a result of there are such a lot of at fault and so many who’ve gotten damage.

The Crime of the Century asks its viewers to take in an immense tapestry of ache. The lingering query? How to cease it? But we’re trapped in a vicious cycle now. If individuals aren’t hooked on the opioids themselves, they’re hooked on the cash and energy the trade permits them. The Crime of the Century begs for justice to someway be served.

The Crime of the Century premieres on HBO and HBO Max on May 10.

Where to stream The Crime of the Century

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.