It begins with the children. Haunted by abandonment and other horrors they are far too young to fully process, they testify to the toll their parent's addiction has taken on them. These opening moments of the BBC Three documentary Addicted: America's Opioid Crisis set the stage for a harrowing portrait of hellish descent.
This crisis originated from a position of greed. The pharmaceutical industry systematically set out to over-prescribe these drugs for the treatment of pain. The film outlines the tactics taken by the industry to target potential patients and persuade medical professionals to fully embrace their use.
With the introduction of their star brand OxyContin, the drug's manufacturer Purdue doubled their sales force. Their sales reps were trained to deliver pitches marked by false assumptions, lofty promises and faulty science. Started in the 90's, Purdue also spread their message through a slick ad campaign that touted a safer, more reliable painkiller free of undesirable side effects. They promised that "less than 1% of users become addicted". Over the next 15 years, the rate of opioid addiction increased by 900%. As one interview subject explains early in the film, "No other medication kills as many people as opioids."
The documentary investigates the horrific individual and societal impact of these rising addiction rates, and relentlessly exposes the chief engineers behind the epidemic. If these companies are directly responsible for this scourge of death and destruction, the film argues, then they should cover the cost to help resolve it.
The filmmakers speak to a variety of figures who represent the totality of the epidemic, including grieving parents whose children have passed from overdoses, addicts who struggle everyday to stay clean and lead productive lives, overwhelmed drug counselors who stand at the frontline of the recovery process, drug enforcement agents who fight to stifle the flood of opioid shipments from drug cartels, and a former sales representative from Purdue who blows the whistle on the company's shameful practices.
With great anger and urgency, Addicted: America's Opioid Crisis unflinchingly confronts the traumatic results of the opioid epidemic - from decimated communities across the United States to the individuals who have been left grieving or dead in its wake.