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The Opioid Epidemic Impacts the Film and TV Industry

The opioid epidemic’s human toll has now become well-known, and in 2021 it’s been more prominently shown on television than ever before.

OxyContin was a central theme in Hulu’s Dopesick Hulu’s Dopesick, as well as several other episodes, such as HBO’s Mare of Easttown, AMC’s Kevin Can F*** Himself, and Showtime’s Dexter: New Blood and American Rust, which dealt with opiate addiction.

With their widespread use, opiates appeared in everything from a suspenseful murder investigation to a darkly humorous parody of old-school comedies.

How the Opioid Crisis Has Been Portrayed

Kaitlyn Dever, who plays Betsy Mallum in the show Dopesick, said she was aware of the situation but didn’t know much about the circumstances. After suffering an accident on the job, her coal miner character develops an addiction to OxyContin. She added that she was unaware of the extent of the harm caused by OxyContin or how many lives were touched or lost as a result of it.

The miniseries, developed by Danny Strong, follows Betsy at different phases of her drug abuse – across timeframes and with individuals. The actor said she created a spreadsheet for herself so she could see where her character was in the withdrawal process.

To do her character justice, Dever relied on Beth Macy’s book, Dopesick, the source content for the miniseries, and met with someone who had a similar experience. She said that person played a major part in her research and development for the role.

The well-meaning village doctor, played by Michael Keaton’s Samuel Finnix, gives Betsy the prescription that leads to her addiction.

The Impact of Prescription Drugs

In another role, Mary Hollis Inboden plays Patty O’Connor, a Boston hairdresser in AMC’s dark comedy Kevin Can F*** Himself. The sheltered and bored hairdresser thinks she is helping when she takes her brother’s pain medication and gives it away after an accident leaves him injured.

This event leads Patty to start dealing drugs, and she actually finds a purpose in the activity. She does not think about how she affects the people who buy the drugs nor the consequences of her activity, which gives her mundane existence new meaning.

Roseanne Barr was written out of ABC’s The Conners due to an opiate overdose – a realistic scenario for a working-class family who is trying to hold it together.

First Responders Using Opioids

In Mare of Easttown, Kate Winslet portrays detective Mare, who has seen a lot of her friends and family members battle addiction, including a friend of her brother and her grandson’s mother. Jeff Daniels appears in American Rust as a Pennsylvania police officer. He, too, is afflicted by an addiction to opioids.

Opioid dependence was shown in characters like Gregory House in House, played by Hugh Laurie, and Elliot in Mr. Robot, played by Rami Malek, who were both known to use opioids on-screen. Because they had a legitimate medical necessity, they began taking the medication. For example, Dr. House takes Vicodin to manage pain from a leg injury while Rami Malek’s character, Elliot, has a dissociative disorder and begins to use opioids to wean himself off of snorting morphine.

Hollywood is Reflecting What is Really Happening

This leads us to wonder, how true are these portrayals? Is Hollywood reflecting what is going on in our society with so many shows featuring drug use currently being released? The answer is an emphatic yes!

We are in the midst of a drug overdose epidemic that is claiming 270 lives per day in this country. Drug overdoses now outnumber car accidents as the primary cause of preventable mortality in the United States. Data from CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics indicate that there were an estimated 100,306 drug overdose deaths in the United States during 12-month period ending in April 2021, an increase of 28.5% from the 78,056 deaths during the same period the year before.

First responders (like doctors and police) have been extremely hard-hit by the opioid epidemic.

Get Help to Make Recovery a Reality

You or your loved one has a life worth living, no matter how hopeless you or they feel right now. Learning how to live a sober life starts by getting help. Use the SAMHSA treatment finder to provide provider in your area. The relief will be immediate, because you will know that you have started down the right path.

About the Author

Scott H. Silverman has been fighting against addiction for almost 40 years. He is the author of The Opioid Epidemic and the CEO of Confidential Recovery, an outpatient rehab in San Diego