Opioids and addiction: The story of Dopesick

Prescribed opioids - Centres for Health and Healing

Most of us have watched or heard about the controversial miniseries ”Dopesick”.

The above series highlights the rise of drugs like OxyContin and how the painkiller, which Purdue Pharma marketed, started the opioid crisis in America.

Opioid epidemic

Addiction specialists say that even though strict measures and controls have gotten put on prescription painkillers, the opioid crisis is still prevalent in the United States today. Moreover, experts believe that much more needs to be done to prevent people from becoming victims of the opioid epidemic through addiction treatment programs specifically for those addicted to painkillers.

What is meant by the term “Dopesick”?

Opiods - Centres for Health and Healing

According to Beth Macy, author of Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and The Drug Company that Addicted America, Dopesick refers to people who use drugs and describes the mental and physical barriers to quitting.

When someone is Dopesick, users aren’t taking opiates to get ”high” more often than not, they try to avoid the torture and agony of withdrawal by using.


Essentially, the story of Dopesick illustrates the reality of the prescription opioid crisis in America.

The story gets told through users’ perspectives, doctors, pharmaceutical company owners, and sales consultants who unethically market and distribute profoundly powerful painkillers. The show’s characters distribute such drugs by trivializing or downplaying the risk of addiction.

OxyContin crisis

According to David Dorsch, CEO of Recovery Centres of America and Raritan Bay, at the heart of the Dopesick story is:

‘’an accurate portrayal surrounding the OxyContin crisis and the pharmaceutical companies, such as Purdue Pharma, who took advantage of peoples’ pain.”

Additionally, the show highlights how local doctors taking care of patients genuinely cared and did all they could to minimize or alleviate their patients’ suffering.

OxyContin, a painkiller, was marketed as a long-lasting ”miracle drug” that alleviated acute pain with minimal potential for addiction and abuse. 

This pill was impossible for those in need to resist.

An accurate portrayal of gluttony and addiction

Beth Macy states that many of the show’s characters were based on real people’s lives.

For instance, the show’s character Richard Sackler, who heads up Purdue Pharma, or sister Beth Davies who owns the Addiction Education Centre in downtown Pennington Gap, Virginia, are all real people.

The heart of the story

The central message surrounding the Dopesick story and the series is more about the challenges people endure when recovering from an opiate addiction rather than how they got addicted.

Dopesick takes us back to the era of the late nineties and early noughties when Purdue Pharma was relentlessly marketing OxyContin to health care professionals.

It was also a time when researchers began highlighting the potency of OxyContin and the high risks associated, i.e. overdose and addiction.


Beth Macy highlights the stigma surrounding drug addiction in an interview, especially prescription drug dependency.

Systemic stigma

Macy explains that the stigma surrounding opioid addiction is personal but also systemic.

”We don’t spend enough money treating people; instead, we put up too many barriers to medication-assisted treatment,” explains Macy.

Macy also says that:

”There is an eighty – eight percent treatment gap in America, meaning that only twelve percent of people with opioid use disorders were able to access treatment in the last year” (The Harvard Gazette, Liz Mineo, October 2021).

Avoiding stereotypes

A significant aspect of Macy’s research was to represent the people of Appalachia as much as possible to avoid them being inaccurately stereotyped.

Work professions

According to Macy, Purdue Pharma specifically targeted Appalachia due to the significantly ”higher than average” work-related injuries of professions like coal – mining, farming and logging.

Macy wanted to avoid the Appalachian people being labelled as ”pillbillies” since that seems to be the stereotype for people in this region.

Profound stigma

The stigma attached to addiction in America is rife, even today. 

As a result, most people do not want to associate with those with opioid use disorders, whether they are family members or neighbours.

The show’s message around the importance of medication-assisted treatment is significantly substantial.

The above is especially true as the series goes on, something that Danny Strong, the showrunner of Dopesick, was on board with, according to Macy.

The opioid crisis continues today

Opioids addiction - Centres for Health and Healing

Despite increased awareness of OxyContin’s destructive potential and law authority crackdowns on ”pill mills” owned by dubious doctors, the opioid epidemic continues today.

The Sackler family

The Sacklers agreed to pay a lengthy sum of four-point-three million dollars to mitigate the misuse of OxyContin and give up ownership of Purdue pharma in a 2021 settlement.

The challenges of gaining access to treatment

Although the control of prescription opiates has gotten better, the opioid crisis has worsened.

Unfortunately, drug – dealers have increased the availability and supply of drugs like fentanyl and heroin to meet the demands and needs of users.

Death and overdose

In addition, studies conducted in 2021 by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention reported that drug overdose deaths increased by up to thirty percent in 2020 from the previous year.

Macy’s research reported that only twelve percent of those with opioid use disorders could get proper access to treatment. People with opiate addictions are being failed across the board; they are not getting access to treatment, but there are also issues around social support and housing for people in this group.

Hulu series: Dopesick

Many positives have come out of Dopesick, and it seems that awareness – mainly around the stigma associated with addiction and substance abuse is one of the main aspects.

Unfortunately, the stigma around addiction continues to be one of the barriers to treatment, especially in the United States, where the stereotype of an addict is someone who lives on the street and smokes crack.

Dopesick counters such stereotypes by illustrating just how easy it is for people to become addicted and fall into the pattern of substance abuse.

Addiction does not come with an exemption certificate; it can affect anyone.

The typecast of an addict needs to change if we hope to get people into proper addiction treatment programs.

Getting stigmatized for addiction only adds to the problem and often prevents people from getting treatment.

Education on addiction

Researchers have reported that healthcare physicians receive minimal education around addiction issues.

Fortunately, Dopesick has done a great job highlighting such issues and putting them into the mainstream.

Thus, education for doctors on opioid addiction and abuse is critical to avoid deadly results.

In some way or another, most of us have known at least one person touched by addiction, whether it be alcohol or drug dependency.

Addiction is a widespread issue, and it must be acknowledged to help those in need of treatment – there is hope and support out there, and addiction doesn’t have to be a way of life.

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Treatment for Addiction - Centres for Health and Healing

At Centres for Health and Healing, we specialize in treating various substance, behavioural and concurrent disorders. If you are struggling with an addiction or know someone that might be, please get in touch with one of our specialists who can help.

Lisa Davies - Program Director of Vaughan Recovery and Kirby Estate

About Lisa Davies

Lisa is the Program Director at Centres for Health and Healing. She lived for most of her life in the Durham region, before moving to Peel five years ago.

Lisa is a Master Hypnotist and is certified in Hypnotherapy (2008), Self-Hypnosis and in 5-phase Advanced Therapeutic Healing. As a Member of National Guild of Hypnotists, she is also specialized in hypnosis training in pediatrics, pain management, neuro-linguistic and stage programming.

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