The Netflix series “Painkiller” tracks the origins of the opioid epidemic with Matthew Broderick as its main villain: billionaire Purdue Pharma chief Richard Sackler.
“One of the things we always try to do when we’re telling any story is to humanize the characters,” executive producer Eric Newman told The Post.
“What Matthew gave us was an instant likeability. When you’re playing a character who has some repulsive qualities, to have someone going in that conjures Ferris Bueller is useful.
“I like to think that it’s Matthew’s take on a Bond villain.’
Newman was a producer on “Narcos” and said that his time “studying and chronicling drug traffickers,” let him to see “similarities” between the two series.
“In the case of this story, the betrayal of public trust is really the worst sin,” he said. “These were not people who would describe themselves as drug dealers. They would describe themselves as doctors. And that was a glaring difference that made the insidiousness — the evil — of this even more pronounced than the South American drug trade.”
“Painkiller” is based on Patrick Radden Keefe’s New Yorker article, “The Family That Built an Empire of Pain” and Barry Meier’s book, “Pain Killer: An Empire of Deceit and the Origin of America’s Opioid Epidemic.”
It retells the opioid crisis from several different perspectives, including billionaire Richard Sackler (Broderick) and his team at Purdue Pharma (Sackler has denied responsibility for the crisis); Edie Flowers (Uzo Aduba), a lawyer working for the US attorney’s office in Roanoke who’s investigating the drug OxyContin; Glen Kryger (Taylor Kitsch), a family man with a small business who gets hooked on OxyContin after he’s injured at work; and Shannon Shaeffer (West Duchovony), a new recruit to the Purdue sales team who begins having doubts.
“Back in 2003, I was working at the New York Times and we got a tip that there was this new drug called OxyContin that was running wild on the streets of all these small towns,” Meier, a consulting producer on the show, told The Post.
“I started reporting on it, and I found myself at the dawn of this prescription drug disaster that we now know as the opioid epidemic. I wrote a book about it. The story… sat and sat, and thankfully 20 years later, Eric [Newman] and other people came along and turned it into a fantastic show.”
Director/executive producer Peter Berg told The Post that this topic is personal for him.
“I know people who have died from OxyContin … And I know some big famous names who died from OxyContin — people like Prince, who was one of my heroes, Tom Petty, Chris Cornell,” he said. “The loss of human life to addiction is something that I’m very cognizant of. When Eric [Newman] came to me about a show about the birth and popularity and mass-marketing of what is essentially heroin, it was very appealing to me.
“The result of all of this coverage is that people understand who the Sacklers are,” Berg said. “When you hear Sacklers or OxyContin, people cringe. If you’re told by a doctor to take an OxyContin, you’ll think twice. If you go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the temple of Dendur, it’s no longer ‘The Sackler Wing.’ These names have come off. People know who they are and understand what they’ve done.
“That might be the most justice that anyone is going to get — the fact that the legacy of this family has been eviscerated.”