"Based on Evan Hughes' book of the same name, 'Pain Hustlers' fictionalizes the saga of Insys Therapeutics, which produced and sold a fast-acting fentanyl spray dubbed Subsys that was approved to treat cancer patients' extreme pain. In director David Yates and screenwriter Wells Tower’s retelling, that corrupt firm is Zanna Therapeutics …. Zanna is a low-rent South Florida outfit with almost no market share, putting everyone — including wannabe COO Pete Brenner (Chris Evans) — in dire straits. All that changes, however, when Pete visits a local strip club and meets Liza Drake (Emily Blunt), a dancer with a preternatural gift for reading people and convincing them to do her bidding."
The story of pharma reps bribing doctors and breaking rules to push a dangerous opioid may sound familiar to you: We recently spotlighted "Opioids, Inc.," a PBS Frontline documentary about Insys' crimes, and interviewed its director, Nick Verbitsky. So we're very curious to check out "Pain Hustlers," which debuted this week at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and will come to Netflix on Oct. 27.
While "Pain Hustlers" boasts a star-studded cast, other new and forthcoming addiction- and recovery-related films have caught our eye, too. In "The Good Mother," a mystery-thriller, Hilary Swank uses alcohol to cope with the murder of her opioid-addicted son. An indie directorial debut, "From the Morning to the Night" goes emotionally deep on the story of a sober young woman struggling with the overdose death of her brother. Another TIFF debut, "I Told You So," rounds up an alcohol-addicted artist, an obsessive adult film star and an Italian-American priest who grapples with religion — and heroin. It's a comedy, of sorts. Here's what we'll be watching.
Photo credit: Brian Douglas/Netflix
"On the tape, Jessica Blanchard asks for [the caller's] call-back number, her address, any details about how to find her apartment, and she also asks her to make sure the door is unlocked, to set out Narcan on her coffee table if she has any …. Blanchard paused the tape, and offered a worried look. 'You hear my voice change?' she asked. 'I knew she was going to overdose. She'd just gotten out of rehab, had this period of abstinence. She was speaking with some speed, with some urgency. I just — I knew she wasn’t going to be careful,' she said. 'My mama spirit kicked in. It's a sixth sense you develop when you do these calls. Within about five minutes, I know I’m going to have to call EMS.'"
"'Behind every addiction there are concrete experiences, stories of loneliness, inequality, exclusion, lack of integration,' Pope Francis said. 'Faced with these situations, we cannot be indifferent. The Lord Jesus stopped, became close, healed wounds,' the pope said in a message to toxicologists Aug. 27 for the 60th International Congress of Forensic Toxicologists in Rome. 'In the style of his closeness, we too are called to act, to stop before situations of fragility and pain, to know how to listen to the cry of loneliness and anguish.'"
"Cute terms like mommy juice or liquid courage belie the reality that even small amounts of wine, beer, or cocktails endanger health. … Even when consuming the same amount of alcohol as men, women are more susceptible to its negative effects. Experts point to women's body composition, which has more fatty tissue and less water than men of similar weight, leading to higher and more persistent blood-alcohol concentration. Women also have fewer enzymes that metabolize alcohol. Moreover, women who drink develop a greater number of medical problems, and at much lower alcohol levels, than men."
"Danny Trejo went on to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and after being released [from prison] in 1969, he became a drug counselor. About 15 years later, he stopped by the 'Runaway Train' set trying to help someone struggling with drugs. Andrei Konchalovsky, the movie's director, took notice of Trejo's stare, and when he learned he had been a boxing champ in prison, he put him in the ring with 'Runaway Train' star Eric Roberts. It launched Trejo's career. 'Everything good that has happened to me has happened as a direct result of helping someone else,' Trejo told CBS Mornings."
"The data confirms what's long been known about the arc of the nation's addiction crisis: Users first got hooked by pain pills saturating the nation, then turned to cheaper and more readily available street drugs after law enforcement crackdowns, public outcry and changes in how the medical community views prescribing opioids to treat pain. … The 300 U.S. counties that received the most doses of prescription pain pills per capita from 2006 through 2013 later had the highest death rate from illicit opioids like heroin and fentanyl."
In Case You Missed It: Week of Sept. 4
"'It’s been frustrating because you’re not taken seriously,' said Courtney, who felt she was addicted to marijuana. 'People say it’s not as severe as meth, or alcohol, that it’s not that bad. They think it’s not an addiction.' … Further fueling concerns among some experts: In the 1990s, THC, the psychoactive compound responsible for inducing a high, constituted about 5% of a typical joint or smoke from a bong or pipe, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Today, the THC content in smokable marijuana in recreational products can range between 15 and 21%, while products popular with young people such as edibles and oils can contain well over 50%."
Marijuana is now legal for recreational use in 23 states and D.C., and attitudes toward the drug have changed dramatically in a generation. In 2021, according to the most recent data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 52.5 million Americans aged 12 and older had used marijuana in the past year.
The widespread availability and use of marijuana has created challenges. Some marijuana products on the market are extremely potent, with THC levels as high as 98%, which can induce psychosis in people who use them. Cannabis use disorder (CUD) is on the rise, and addiction treatment professionals are working to find new treatment options that help ease symptoms and promote sobriety; antipsychotic medications can be effective, as can psilocybin. It's a complicated situation, but more attention and research are being focused on CUD than in the past, and more people are getting help.
"Thirty-one-year-old DJ Mina has been sober for six years and launched her booze-free event Club Soft at [London]'s Colour Factory just last month. One raver told her that it was the first time they’d felt safe in a club environment, while another said that in a world that labels people 'boring' for not drinking, it let them feel validated in their life choices. 'For me, the most fun people I know don’t drink,' Mina says. 'What’s more cool? The fact you have to rely on alcohol to have fun or putting yourself out of your comfort zone?'"
"'How do I write sober?' was the big question that sobriety raised. I told the alcoholics who were helping me, 'If it comes down to a choice between my creativity and my sobriety, I don’t know that I will choose sobriety.'
"'There is no choice,' they promptly answered me. 'Keep on drinking and there will be no more creativity.' I knew that they were right. If I were honest with myself, my methods had not really been working for some time."
"Neuroscientist Kathleen Grant is among a group of U.S. researchers who are trying a new approach: using gene therapy to reset the brain's dopamine pathway. In a study published today in the journal Nature Medicine, they found that an experimental therapy injected into the brains of monkeys dramatically curbed their drinking over the course of a year. … By the end of the year, the alcohol consumption [of the animals that got the gene therapy] dropped by more than 90% compared to the control group."
"'Will [Arnett] was like, "Hey man, do you remember we had dinner the other night? How do you think that went?"' Cooper recalled. 'I remember being at the dinner thinking I was so funny, and I thought these two guys who were my heroes thought that I was so funny. I was like, "I thought it was great. I thought I was killing." Will Arnett was like, "You were a real a**hole, man. You were a real a**hole." That was the first time I ever realized I had a problem with drugs and alcohol.'"