The documentary The Oxy Kingpins currently screening online at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival is an important film. It highlights the opioid crisis and defines the medical-industrial complex’s role in addicting the US public to its lethal drugs. The pharmaceutical manufacturers are the top link of the the “Oxy” network. Its companies, distributors, retailers, hospitals, doctors, pain clinics and street dealers ride the OxyContin train for mega profits.
The filmmakers emphasize that while the big pharma corporations kill Americans with their opioids, they have walked between the raindrops, avoiding criminal or civil prosecutions in court. In their cool towers above the fray, the CEOs are the unseen criminals. Meanwhile, it is the users, dealers, doctors and pharmacists who remain the little fish in the wide net. The DEA catches, tries and convicts them for their abuse and for often illegal and unregulated distribution of OxyContin (oxycodone).
The pharmaceutical companies encourage the distributors to find loopholes in regulations. Through skirting or failing to adhere to those regulations, opioid use has increased exponentially. The opioid crisis has devastated and continues to devastate towns in rural areas the most.
Co-directed and produced by Brendan Fitzgerald and Nick August-Perna, the excellent documentary lays blame appropriately. The documentarians advocate for criminal as well as civil penalties on the knowing perpetrators at the top. The corporations addict their clients and refuse to accept responsibility for the deaths they cause, instead happily collecting their blood-stained profits. Again and again, the theme of billions of dollars sacrificing people’s lives comes to the fore. An important sub-theme is how lobbyists conspire with government to cut back on life-saving opioid regulations.
Fitzgerald and August-Perna remind us that political parties who eschew enforcing regulations only hold the “little people” accountable. This is doubly destructive. First, it punishes by abusing the public with harmful chemicals it should protect them from. Second, it expects that they foot the bill for cleaning up the mess the unregulated corporations caused to begin with.
The documentarians reveal the most salient information by interviewing attorney Mike Papantonio. They shadow him cinema verite-style as he collects information for the case against pharmaceutical companies and distributors. Joined by a legion of attorneys, they work the case together with Nevada attorney Robert Eglet. They will try the case in Nevada because Nevada law favors obtaining documents to mitigate a public health crisis. If they can win the case in Nevada, that will open the doors to win similar cases in other states.
Through interviews, brief cinema verite shots of the Nevada courtroom with plaintiffs and defendants, and interviews with various dealers and one former user, we understand what is at stake with the “Big Three” corporations who are the “Oxy Kingpins” of the title. These are drug makers McKesson, AmeresourceBergen, and Cardinal Health. The attorneys add CVS, Walgreens and perhaps others companies like Walmart to the suit.
The public never considers that invisible corporations spearhead the opioid crisis. Initially, attorneys found Purdue Pharma owned by the Sackler family to be directly responsible and civilly liable. However, the company and others disagree about the amount of the penalties and whether the company should operate in another form. Nevertheless, as in the instance of the “Big Three,” no Attorneys General or District Attorneys charged the Sackler family with any crimes even though they committed a fraudulent act when they pushed their addictive OxyContin to doctors. And they heavily marketed it to them emphasizing its “non-addictive” pain relieving qualities. Unsuspecting doctors and pharmacists initially believed their advertising. In other words, the Sackler family perpetrated a fraud to addict and kill for the sake of billions.
By the time those in the business of pain relief discovered OxyContin’s properties, they became addicted to the profits. Sadly, the cost to cities, towns and rural communities across the nation has been in the trillions of dollars. The corporations responsible for the crisis expect the American taxpayer to clean up their toxic disaster and have lied in hearings before Congress just as tobacco CEOs lied in years past with practically the same rhetoric. When asked about accountability, the CEO OF McKesson, John Hammergren, the CEO of Cardinal Health, George Barrett, and the CEO of AmeresourceBergen, Steve Collis, to a man said they “did not believe their company contributed” to the opioid epidemic.
Alex, a former dealer now businessman who landed in prison makes important suggestions. He insists that the CEOs of these pharmaceutical companies are the biggest pushers of OxyContin. States and the federal government must hold the corporations and distributors civilly responsible for the devastation they leveled on families. And they must try the CEOs criminally. The intent for the suit in Nevada is to do just that in April 2021.
The OXY Kingpins gives a valuable perspective on the impact of corporations on our society’s ill-health. The documentary indicates how willing they are to addict and destroy us for billions of dollars. Boards of companies who hire amoral CEOs concerned only about the corporation’s bottom line endanger and destroy Americans. Look for this documentary at 2021 SXSW screening platforms when it comes live.