'Dopesick' cast hope new Disney+ show will 'stoke some empathy' for opioid epidemic

Watch: The cast of Dopesick share their hopes for the show with Yahoo

Arriving on Disney+ this week, new TV drama Dopesick chronicles the chilling chain of events that led to one of the most destructive drug crises to strike at the heart of America: the opioid epidemic.

Created by actor-turned-producer Danny Strong and starring Booksmart’s Kaitlyn Dever, Marvel’s new Adam Warlock Will Poulter and none-other than Batman himself Michael Keaton, this unforgiving mini series — based on author Beth Macy’s book of the same name — paints a terrifying picture of a crime that has largely gone unpunished.

Throughout its five episode arc, Strong exposes us to the sins of the Sackler family, owners of big-time drug company Purdue Pharma. Sensing an upcoming dip in profit, Chairman Robert Sackler (Michael Stuhlbarg) comes up with the idea to create a new, super-addictive pain relief drug designed to get unsuspecting users hooked.

Read more: New on Disney+ in November

It’s a blatant cash-grab that gives birth to OxyContin, the opioid that was sold to doctors as a miracle cure for chronic pain and ultimately prescribed to their small-town patients. The result was wide-spread addiction, despite the Sacklers appearing to know all about the potential dangers of the drug they were peddling.

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Dopesick - Dr. Samuel Finnix (Michael Keaton) and Billy (Will Poulter) (Antony Platt/Hulu)

Dopesick shows us both sides of the coin; from the sinister and flagrant intentions of the Sacklers, to the harrowing ground-level impact their drug has on regular folks, like mine worker Betsy (Dever) and Dr Samuel Finnix (Keaton), the local physician who prescribes the drug in good faith and is left to deal with the haunting consequences.

It’s a story that’s brutal and at times difficult to watch, but like powering through withdrawal symptoms, it feels completely necessary and long overdue. After coming through the other end, the show’s cast and creator hope Dopesick can help viewers reevaluate what they think they know about the opioid crisis.

“We want to try and assert that the truth isn’t necessarily the prevailing narrative around this epidemic and I think that’s because of the PR cover up,” suggests Poulter on what he’d like audiences to take away from the show.

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Will Poulter stars as Billy in Dopesick (Antony Platt/Hulu)

He stars as Billy Cutler, a driven young salesman tasked with convincing local doctors to adopt this so-called ‘wonder drug’. An amalgamation of various different people and not based on any one real person, it’s Cutler who we see shaking hands with regional practitioners, indicating the type of grinning suit Purdue would typically recruit to do their dirty work.

“The Sackler family and Purdue have been offered an extraordinary amount of protection for what is effectively a terrible criminal act,” he adds. “They’ve largely been able to evade the charges and accountability they should have to face up to.”

While Cutler is doing the selling, Dever’s troubled character Betsy is looking to buy. Keen to join the family business down the mines in rural Virginia, her work life looks full of promise and her love life is flourishing too. However, any dreams of a bright future quickly evaporate when an accident at work leads her to OxyContin, causing a ripple effect of addiction and a rapid loss of control.

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Betsy (Kaitlyn Dever) in Dopesick. (Antony Platt/Hulu)

“I think there’s so much to take away from this,” Dever tells Yahoo. “What I loved about my character’s journey is that it’s a story of resilience and strength and we really do get to see that addiction is not so black and white,” she suggests, pointing to the fact that Besty could very easily be you or someone you know. “I hope that people who are watching it can better understand what it’s like and have a little bit more empathy towards it.”

Gaining a wider understanding of just how nuanced — and often relatable — the turn of events that lead to addiction can be is something Poulter also hopes people consider during Dopesick.

“We want to try and increase people’s empathy for those who suffer from addiction and make people realise that throughout this process addicts were vilified and labelled as abusers of this drug when actually, the only people who have been abusive throughout this story and since the opioid epidemic began, are the Sackler family and Purdue, in my opinion,” explains Guardians of the Galaxy Vol III’s new villain.

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Dr. Finnix (Michael Keaton) in Dopesick (Gene Page/Hulu)

“It’s about course correcting the narrative and hopefully, in turn, stoking some empathy for people who suffer from opioid abuse disorder.”

It’s these key themes that were at the forefront of Strong’s mind while he was adapting Macy’s bestselling book Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors and the Drug Company that Addicted America. When it comes to a lasting message, the former Gilmore Girls star and co-creator of Empire hopes audiences take note of who’s really at fault.

“I’d like [audiences] to take away a vivid understanding of the crimes and deceptions of Purdue Pharma because it seems like the Sackler’s are going to get away with it so If they’re going to get away with it, I want everyone to know exactly what their criminal company did,” he says.

Watch a trailer for Dopesick

“Then I want people to have a more empathetic understanding of addiction and the medicines and therapies that can treat opioid disorders that are stigmatised... but in fact can be extremely helpful and have someone manage this disease of addiction - and in some cases - overcome it,” explains Strong. “If people can see this, then maybe we can begin to turn a corner on this crisis.”

Dopesick will premiere in the UK with two episodes on Disney+ Day, 12 November, with new episodes releasing on Wednesdays.