By Judy Shields
Hollywood, California (The Hollywood Times) 05/07/2021 – Two-Night Premiere on HBO: May 10 and 11, 2021 – WATCH THE TEASER HERE
HBO’s THE CRIME OF THE CENTURY, a two-part documentary directed by Emmy® and Academy Award® winner Alex Gibney (HBO’s “The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley,” “Going Clear: Scientology & the Prison of Belief”), is a searing indictment of Big Pharma and the political operatives and government regulations that enable over-production, reckless distribution and abuse of synthetic opiates. Exploring the origins, extent and fallout of one of the most devastating public health tragedies of our time, with half a million deaths from overdoses this century alone, the film reveals that America’s opioid epidemic is not a public health crisis that came out of nowhere.
With the help of whistleblowers, insiders, newly-leaked documents, exclusive interviews and access to behind-the-scenes investigations, and featuring expert input from medical professionals, journalists, former and current government agents, attorneys and pharmaceutical sales representatives, as well as sobering testimony from victims of opioid addiction, Gibney’s exposé posits that drug companies are in fact largely responsible for manufacturing the very crisis they profit from, to the tune of billions of dollars…and thousands of lives.
The opioid crisis has resulted in a country ravaged by corporate greed and betrayed by some of its own elected officials, following the aggressive promotion of OxyContin, a highly addictive drug from family-owned pharmaceutical giant, Purdue Pharma. Purdue worked closely with the FDA to get the highly profitable pain medication approved for wider use, promoting its safety without sufficient evidence, and creating a campaign to redefine pain and how we treat it. When government regulators or Justice Department officials tried to mitigate the wrongdoing, Purdue Pharma and companies like Cardinal-Health that were huge opioid distributors would settle the cases, keep the details private and continue on unabated. As tens of thousands of people succumbed to opioid addiction, the fortunes built by the opiate business became the crime of the century, and the market that OxyContin had opened paved the way for even deadlier prescription drugs.
Contributing to Part One of THE CRIME OF THE CENTURY are: author Patrick Radden Keefe; opioid specialist Dr. Andrew Kolodny; former Purdue sales rep. Mark Ross; addiction specialist Dr. Anne Lembke; Life Tree pain clinic founder Dr. Lynn Webster; Roy Bosley, whose wife died of an opioid overdose; author and NY Times reporter Barry Meier; primary care physician Dr. Art Van Zee; former Department of Justice official Paul Pelletier; and EMT Giles Sartin.
Part Two of THE CRIME OF THE CENTURY shines a spotlight on the mass marketing of the synthetic opioid fentanyl and examines the connections between drug manufacturers and government policy. While America’s silent epidemic was killing 40 people a day, Insys Therapeutics, an upstart opioid manufacturer of fentanyl, continued to bribe doctors to overprescribe. Startling video of sales retreats and promotional material speak to a deep cynicism among company employees and a disregard for the widespread, nefarious corporate practices. A complex scheme to defraud the insurance companies existed side by side with fraudulent marketing tactics while lawmakers continued to turn a blind eye to the implications of a complex pipeline that delivers billions of pills around the country.
Interweaving stories of personal tragedy from first responders, survivors and family members of opioid victims with the timeline of corporate greed and malfeasance, Part Two of THE CRIME OF THE CENTURY includes insights from former DEA agent Joe Rannazzisi; former DEA attorney Jonathan Novak; Washington Post reporters Sari Horwitz, Scott Higham, Lenny Bernstein; Assistant U.S. Attorneys for Massachusetts David Lazarus, Nathaniel Yeager and Fred Wyshak; former V.P. of Sales at Insys Alec Burlakoff; former Insys regional sales manager Sunrise Lee; and fentanyl dealer Sidney Caleb Lanier. Woven together, the character-driven stories form a larger narrative of shocking corruption.
Featuring extraordinary access to exclusive videos, whistleblowers and investigators, THE CRIME OF THE CENTURY includes:
- Never before-seen footage of Richard Sackler’s 2015 deposition for the Kentucky v. Purdue Pharma lawsuit
- Never before-seen company videos from Purdue Pharma and Insys Therapeutics
- Interviews with former DEA insiders and officials, including Joe Rannazzisi who was leading major investigations into complex pharmaceutical networks.
- Exclusive interviews with former pharma sales reps who discuss in detail the unethical and illegal practices of bribing doctors and encouraging them to prescribe high doses of opioids. Among those interviewed is Insys VP of Sales Alec Burlakoff.
- Leaked Department of Justice documents showing detailed allegations of fraud, conspiracy and malfeasance by Purdue including improper contacts with an FDA Medical Officer (later hired by Purdue) who was part of the FDA approval process for OxyContin.
- Exclusive access to the DEA’s Narcotics Task Force Team 10 in San Diego
- Exclusive access to The Washington Post’s award-winning journalists and their investigative reporting on the origins and evolution of the opioid crisis, which uncovers astounding data, such as the fact that more than 100 billion doses of oxycodone and hydrocodone were shipped nationwide from 2006 through 2014.
HBO Documentary Films’ presents a Jigsaw Production in association with Storied Media Group, THE CRIME OF THE CENTURY written and directed by Alex Gibney; produced by Alex Gibney, Sarah Dowland, and Svetlana Zill; executive produced by Stacey Offman, Richard Perello, Todd Hoffman, and Aaron Fishman; For HBO: senior producer, Tina Nguyen; executive producers, Nancy Abraham and Lisa Heller.
I have to honestly say, this film took my breath away and not in a good way. What I mean, is that I would gasp and could not breathe for about a minute. I have given birth to two boys, the first birth caused me to flatline because I had placenta previa and should have had a cesarean birth (a long story), so I know what pain is all about. The second one five years later was just as painful for me and no pain pills. I have had two surgeries in my life and thank goodness I never took any of the pain pills the doctor prescribed for me. Beginning of last year I even had kidney stones and ended up in the hospital and had to fight with the nurse and ER doctor that I would not have morphine or any other type of pain meds. It was a struggle because they did not want to take no as my answer. I am not saying that all these millions of people that have chronic pain should not take meds for their pain, but after watching this HBO Documentary The Crime of The Century, I feel so blessed that I never took one of those prescribed pain pills. My heart goes out to all those that have to. It made me so angry after watching this documentary and how those big Pharma companies could make money off of the people of the United States and lie to get the drugs made and especially how they lied about the pills not being addictive. REALLY!
Every single person that has to take pain meds need to watch this documentary and try to get help to get off these addictive pills and find a different type of pain therapy. Stop these big Pharma companies and the Sackler Family. Wait until you see the part about Insys Therapeutics, an upstart opioid manufacturer of fentanyl, who continued to bribe doctors to overprescribe. I don’t even want to talk about the political part…you will see!
After watching part one, I was not sure I could even watch part two, but believe me, you need to watch them both and you will be sitting on the edge of your couch or favorite recliner. Grab plenty of watch and a few snacks, because you will not be able to get up off your couch or favorite recliner once you start watching it. Silence those cellphones and gather the adults in the family to watch it together. This documentary is long overdue and Alex Gibney and his crew did an excellent job bringing this documentary for us all to have our eyes opened about The Crime of The Century.
All adults with family or friends experiencing pain need to watch this documentary film and will want to help them get off these pills. If you don’t have HBO, get it or go over to a friend that does and watch it. Judy Shields, The Hollywood Times
Back in February of this year at CTAM part of the TCA PRESS TOUR, HBO had a virtual panel which included Alex Gibney, Director, Writer and Producer, and Film Subjects Scott Higham, Washington Post Investigative Reporter, Dr. Anna Lembke, Medical Director of Addiction Medicine at Stanford University, and Dr. Art Van Zee, Primary Care Physician.
The Hollywood Times had the privilege of being on the Zoom call, and at that time got to see a trailer of it and that small part was enough to shake me up.
The first question asked was how long did it take to make the documentary and director, Alex Gibney said “It took about two years from start to finish. It started with a meeting at ‘The Washington Post’ where the editors and the reporters, Scott Higham included sort of educated me in terms of the breadth of this. So about two years from start to finish.
Another question asked was for the panelists, “this seems to run very parallel to what the tobacco industry did several generations ago very knowingly in addicting people and Congress is always being bought off, and Big Pharma, Big Tobacco always seems to be kind of I guess holding the puppet strings.”
Director Alex Gibney said “I think there are very real similarities you point out that are absolutely correct. Maybe I’ll throw over to Scott and to Dr. Lembke on that one, also.”
Scott Higham said “Yeah, we saw a lot of similarities. The big difference is that there was a direct cause and effect here. You take a lot of opioids and you’re going to overdose. You smoke a pack of cigarettes a day and you may or may not die. And so that was I think the big difference is that you were seeing people falling out everywhere across the country; in supermarket parking lots, in their cars, while they’re driving, in their homes, people dying left and right. And the companies kept on manufacturing, they kept shipping, they kept dispensing. The corrupt doctors kept writing. And Congress turned a blind eye to the entire fiasco.”
Dr. Anna Lembke said “Yeah. Ed, I think it’s a great parallel that you’re drawing. And I agree with everything that Scott just said, but I would add as one really major difference between Big Tobacco and Big Opioid is that tobacco never pretended that they were selling medicine that would actually make you better. Whereas the opioid industry that was their winning ticket. This is medicine. We’re healers. We would never hurt you. And that’s why their campaign to misrepresent opioids was so insidious, so destructive, and really in many ways very evil. I guess I want to add though that I think this kind of David-and-Goliath parallel between sort of the average person and the public good and these large corporations that are manipulating the public, I think that’s a story that has been true and is going to be true. I’m a little bit more optimistic, though, that we’re going to be able to figure it out by kind of trying to eliminate the corruption among lawmakers, looking at the lobbying and creating more clear blue sky between the practice of medicine and those people, those individuals who produce and market medicine. So, I think documentaries like this and educating each other is a step in the right direction.”
Dr. Art Van Zee said “I’d just add to that that one of the parallels we don’t want to see happen with the opioid litigation is, in 1998, they had the multidistrict or multistate tobacco settlement. So, it’s $128 billion over 20 years or something to that effect. And it’s been reported that about three percent of that monies really went to tobacco prevention or treatment. And that’s something I think is so important with whatever monies come out of the litigation now that all of us as citizens, everybody that follows this thing but our officials and everybody have to make sure that this money is well spent, that it’s spent for what it needs to be spent for which is prevention and treatment. And just very recently, Johns Hopkins and a coalition of healthcare organizations released a document on principles, the five principles to guide looking at how the monies are spent in litigation. It’s a document well worth looking at. ”
Another great question was, “is the American Medical Association an advocate for people, what kind of hope can people take away after watching this documentary”?
Alex Gibney said “Well, some of the hope is here on this panel, Investigative Reporters like Scott Higham, who are bringing this to light. People like Doctor Lembke who really made a concerted attempt to understand the problem from a medical perspective, but also to see it within the context of the effect on patients and how to understand it. And Doctor Van Zee, who lead a crusade of a small group of people in Western Virginia to try to rise up and upend these crimes. And there are a number of other people in the film too. So, in talking about the crime, I always feel it’s important to talk about the heroes. And the heroes are the people who are trying either to prevent the crimes or to fight back and to educate us all about thinking about these things in a very different way. So that, or me, is the hope. And you see that in places all over the country.”
Anna Lembke said “Yeah, I would just add to that that I think just the fact that documentaries like this can be made and that the average person can watch them, means that the pursuit of truth is still alive in our country and that we can collectively come together and try to figure out what happened and, in figuring that out, come up with solutions. And I think we’re doing that. I mean opioid prescribing has decreased by about 25 to 30 percent since its peak in 2012. Unfortunately, we’ve seen a huge increase in fentanyl-related overdose deaths, but I’m optimistic that with expanded treatment and other interventions we’re going to get that under control, too. I think it’s going to take decades. This was a problem that was decades in the making. It will be decades in the solving. But I, too, am optimistic and I think there’s lots of reasons to be hopeful. And I think this documentary is inspiring because, in the documentary, you see people who are part of “the crime,” who themselves kind of come to the realization and come round. And then just by agreeing to be interviewed, in a sense, they’re wanting to redress those wrongs.”
- Mon, May 10 – 9:00 pm PTHBO LATINO
- Tue, May 11 – 7:00 pm PTHBO2
- Wed, May 12 – 4:10 pm PTHBO SIGNATURE
- Thu, May 13 – 6:05 pm PTHBO LATINO
- Sat, May 15 – 8:00 am PTHBO2
- Sun, May 16 – 1:55 pm PTHBO SIGNATURE
- Wed, May 19 – 4:15 am PTHBO LATINO
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- Fri, May 21 – 12:05 am PTHBO2
- Sat, May 22 – 11:55 am PTHBO LATINO
- Thu, Jun 03 – 11:45 pm PTHBO LATINO
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