One UK doctor revealed that he had been manipulated into prescribing addictive painkillers to him by aggressive salespeople shortly after completing his medical training. This is similar to the storyline in Dopesick’s hard-hitting US drama, which depicts America’s opioid crisis.  

Michael Keaton, an actor, has won a Golden Globe. He plays Dr Samuel Finnix in the role of a small-town doctor who is persuaded by Billy Cutler (William Poulter), to prescribe Oxycontin. This highly addictive drug is referred to as oxy by its abusers. Dr Finnix trusts Cutler and uses his promise of dates with women and many meals out.  

Based on the book Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors and the Drug Company that Addicted America by journalist Beth Macy, the eight-part show is currently streaming on Disney+ and traces back the opioid epidemic in the US to the sales offices of Purdue Pharma, owned by Transatlantic dynasty the billionaire Sackler family.

Dopesick is the slam for withdrawal symptoms that opioid addicts often experience after stopping using them. In the US, more than 500,000 deaths over the last two decades have been attributed to opioid abuse. 

Hard-hitting US drama Dopesick sees Michael Keaton play Dr Samuel Finnix, a small-town GP who's persuaded to prescribe Oxycontin, an addictive painkiller to patients by salesman Billy Cutler (William Poulter)

Dopesick is a hard-hitting drama set in the USA. Michael Keaton plays Dr Samuel Finnix. He’s a small-town doctor who is persuaded by Billy Cutler (William Poulter), to give Oxycontin to his patients.

Purdue Pharma filed for bankruptcy in 2019 after being involved in thousands of lawsuits claiming the big pharma company pressured doctors to prescribe OxyContin, a highly addictive narcotic that has contributed to the US opioid crisis, resulting in more than 500,000 deaths in America over the last two decades

Purdue Pharma filed bankruptcy for 2019 in the wake of being infiltrated in thousands lawsuits alleging the big pharmaceutical company forced doctors to prescrive OxyContin. The highly addictive narcotic has been responsible for more than 500 deaths across the United States over the last 20 years.

Dr Toh Wong, now a senior GP says as a young doctor working in rheumatology in the early noughties, he would be targeted by drugs companies selling painkillers (Pictured: Dr Wong

Dr Wong says the UK's tougher regulations on how drug companies can market to

Now, Dr Toh Wong is a senior GP near Exeter. He says that as a young doctor in rheumatology – a field where painkillers were often prescribed – he was wined and dined at some of the most luxurious restaurants in order to convince him to take opiates. 

The docu-drama tells the story of how America's opioid addiction crisis was contributed to by drugs company Purdue Pharma, owned by the wealthy Sackler family, through fictional characters including miner Betsy (Kaitlyn Dever) who is given the drug for back pain but quickly sees her life de-rail as she becomes addicted to 'Oxy'

Through fictional characters, including Betsy (Kaitlyn Debor), Betsy is treated for back pain and soon becomes dependent on ‘Oxy.

The fictional Finch Creek town in rural Virginia may seem far from UK GPs, but one British doctor said he was stunned by the series. This is because he, along with many others, had experienced disreputable sales techniques in the UK drug industry during his first year as a physician. 

Next month Dr Toh Woong will talk about his experience at the UK Integrative Health Conference. As a new doctor in Leicester, he was frequently taken out by drug companies and misled as to how addictive certain drugs, especially Tramadol. 

“In 2001, my first year of being a doctor, I was wined and dined at expensive restaurants almost every weekend. My job was in rheumatology. Back then painkillers were the most important way we could help patients. Drug companies targeted us. 

Tougher UK laws have meant the opiate OxyContin, dubbed 'Oxy' by its abusers, is much harder to prescribe; its flooding of the US healthcare system in the 90s - prescribed by doctors misled that it wasn't addictive in the treatment of moderate pain - is largely thought to have sparked an opioid crisis

The UK has tougher laws, making it harder for OxyContin to be prescribed. Its flooding of the US healthcare system during the 1990s is widely believed to have caused an opioid crisis. Doctors misleadly recommended that the drug was not addictive and could only be used to treat moderate pain.

“Every Saturday, we would go to the most costly restaurant in the city. It was open on Saturdays. The drug companies invited us because we believed it was an educational event.

‘I remember ordering a £30 monkfish dish that seemed so much money because I’d been used to being a student. Then, we’d all eat free of charge and then there’d be some discussion about the drug. 

The UK has strict regulations that prohibit such sales tactics. Tramadol is now a controlled substance. Dr Wong claims British doctors were often misled by salespeople and prescribed Tramadol based upon misinformation. 

“We were assured that it was not addictive, and that it would be less toxic to people who take it. This would mean that patients would require more drug companies’ profits. 

While OxyContin is available in the UK, it was licensed under much stricter regulations; Dr Wong says Tramadol, made a controlled drug in 2014, was the equivalent; and that sales reps would tell doctors the painkiller was not addictiv

Although OxyContin was available in the UK it is not licensed. Dr Wong states that Tramadol was made a controlled medication in 2014. Sales reps told doctors this painkiller wasn’t addictive.

The opioids could be provided to doctors for free – Dr Finnix’s Dopesick article explains. Dr Wong now 44 says that he felt like flying after taking Tramcet. This combination of tramadol/paracetamol quickly made him realize how addictive opioids are.   

“Think about the most peaceful place that you could imagine. For a moment, take a deep breath and let it sink in. Now, visualize that sensation disappearing quickly and lasting forever. The people want to learn what they can do in order to go back there. 

The UK has stricter regulation for Oxycontin than the US, so the drug has not been prescribed in the same manner. However Dr Wong claims he has given the medication to patients and has indirectly witnessed one of his patients get addicted.  

He explained that he had an ongoing patient suffering from abdominal pain. His hospital continued to prescribe Oxycontin.  

‘Eventually, he was sent to another hospital where he received a de-tox program. Now he is back at work with no need for the medication. 

Dr Wong says terms used by sales people at Purdue Pharma that feature in Dopesick including ‘breakthrough pain’ – coined to persuade doctors to double doses of Oxycontin when it stopped working – are now used commonly by doctors in the UK. 


Oxycontin, a prescription-only opioid-based painkiller was introduced to the market in 1996. 

It was promoted as being less addictive than prescription painkillers and quickly became the most widely used opioid drug in America. 

Purdue Pharma, the drug maker, was owned by the Sackler Family. They offered huge incentives for their sales staff to sell OxyContin. The majority of doctors were not familiar with chronic pain and had never used it. 

Family members of people who've lost their lives to an Oxycontin addiction pictured in 2019 protesting at the Arthur M. Sackler Museum at Harvard University, Boston

Family members of people who’ve lost their lives to an Oxycontin addiction pictured in 2019 protesting at the Arthur M. Sackler Museum at Harvard University, Boston

In 2019, anti-opioid protestors targeted art galleries across the world that had benefited from donations from the Sackler family, including the Louvre in Paris and the Guggenheim in New York

Anti-opioid protestors attacked art galleries around the globe that received donations from the Sackler Family in 2019, including the Louvre in Paris, and the Guggenheim New York.

Sales reps in the medical industry were told to reduce the likelihood of addicting and abuse.  

The drug had been licensed by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for moderate pain (previously opioids were only licensed for severe pain), something that was core to the sales patter of Purdue Pharma’s staff.

The doctors also recommended OxyContin to treat a variety of pain conditions, such as headaches and back pain, rather than resorting to paracetamol or antiinflammatories like ibuprofen. 

Purdue Pharma continued its push for the drug even though it was becoming a more popular drug of abuse, often linked to crime.  

In 2019, a court case brought by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey against Purdue Pharma accused its executives and members of the billionaire Sackler family of deceiving patients and doctors about the risks of opioids and pushing prescribers to keep patients on the drug longer. 

In December 2021, a federal judge rejected Purdue Pharma’s offer for a $4.5billon settlement with thousands of plaintiffs, including individuals affected by the opioid crisis and local, state and Native governments, because of a clause which would have protected the Sackler family from litigation.

U.S. District Court Judge Colleen MacMahon of New York stated that the bankruptcy judge that originally agreed to the settlement was not legally authorized to release the family.  

Purdue stated in a statement that the decision would make it more difficult for Sackler and company money to be used against the opioid crisis. The legal battle continues. 

Steve Miller, Chairman of Purdue’s board of directors, stated that it would delay and possibly end the ability for creditors, communities and individuals to obtain billions of value in order to address the opioid crisis. 

“These funds will help people in crisis, such as those suffering from overdoses. 

At the moment, eight members of Sackler’s billionaire family are under investigation by numerous American cities, counties, and states. 

The family continues to donate to charitable causes, with UK public bodies benefiting from £14 million from the Sacklers in 2020.

In real life, Purdue Pharma president Richard Sackler, played by Michael Stuhlbarg in Dopesick, was thought to be the driving force behind aggressive sales tactics, which saw the drug initially being sold as a non-addictive painkiller, which was later proven to be untrue. The family are currently being sued by multiple American cities, counties and states

Purdue Pharma president Richard Sackler was played in Dopesick by Michael Stuhlbarg. He was believed to have been the driving force behind aggressive selling tactics. The drug was initially sold to the public as a non-addictive painkiller. However, this was later found to not be true. The family are currently being sued by multiple American cities, counties and states

Purdue Pharma introduced a Pain Chart that features faces and indicates how severe a patient’s pain is. This chart is widely used by doctors and hospitals all over the world.   

Are opioids ever safe? Dr Wong believes it’s possible, provided that doctors can remain alert to its dangers. 

It is a painkiller that can be used to treat insomnia. It is valuable and effective when used correctly.

There are many people whose lives were destroyed by prescription drugs. But there’s hope. Many patients have recovered their lives with the help of treatment.

James Boorer is a Pathfields Medical Group GP in Plymouth who has an interest in pain management. He says that doctors are often overworked and have limited time to see patients suffering from chronic pain. 

FEMAIL is told by him that opioids have been prescribed for chronic pain in the past. However, we now know this can lead to addiction and worsening of pain.

“Doctors prescribe opiates with good faith because this is the most common treatment for chronic pain over many years. 

“However this has been questioned over the last five to ten year with National Institute for Health and Care Excellence publishing in April 2021 guidelines that recommend pain medication be avoided for treatment of chronic pain.

Many of those in pain he visits have lived difficult lives. Dr Boorer says: “Some people have suffered abuse as children. Some have experienced domestic violence. Others have felt threatened for long periods of time (e.g., financial worry). 

The brain’s ability to process stress is altered, resulting in pain sensations that are significantly greater than those of other people. It can lead to severe and even fatal conditions. Unfortunately, it’s hard to treat.

America's opiate crisis in 2022: Thousands of lawsuits have been filed accusing Purdue Pharma of aggressively marketing OxyContin while downplaying its addiction and overdose risks. The company and family members have denied the allegations

America’s Opiate Crisis in 2022: There are thousands of lawsuits against Purdue Pharma alleging that they aggressively promoted OxyContin, while downplaying the addiction risks and overdose dangers. Family members and the company have refuted these allegations.

Dr Boorer says that in the past a decade, patients suffering from chronic pain went to see their doctors and were prescribed opiates. Although this may seem like a good treatment option at first, it is not likely to last. The body adjusts, creating new pain receptors, and the pain returns. 

They become dependent on opiates to survive the day. Any missed doses can cause severe flare-ups of pain. As they seem to be working, they go to their doctor again to ask for more. The cycle continues until they are on extremely high doses and suffering from severe side effects. There are many people whose lives were destroyed by prescription drugs.

Dr Boorer states that it’s crucial for those who are addicted to opiates and suffer from chronic pain to know there is help.

According to him, abrupt withdrawal from opiates increases the risk of developing withdrawal symptoms. However, gradual withdrawals can be reduced or eliminated over a period of time. 

“There’s a growing awareness by doctors and general public about the harmful effects of these drugs – my personal surgery is passionate about helping people stop and reduce these drug abuse. Although this takes time, it is well worth the effort. Patients who are able to get their lives back after stopping using these drugs have been able to tell us that it was worthwhile.  

What number of Oxycontin-related suits has Purdue Pharma been involved in over the years? 

Purdue is involved with measures to combat prescription drug abuse. Oxycontin has been cited as one of the most frequently cited drugs in relation to overdose deaths.

2001Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal made a statement encouraging Purdue’s to address the abuse of Oxycontin. He said that Purdue appeared sincere but little was being done beyond symbolic and cosmetic steps. 

Blumenthal pointed out that Purdue Pharma had plans to reformulate its drug. He also noted that it could take some time. Purdue Pharma is legally obligated to address abuse and addiction while reformulating the drug.

2004Purdue sued the West Virginia Attorney General to recover ‘excessive prescription cost’ that was paid by them. Purdue was charged with misleading marketing after the state claimed that Purdue’s patients had taken more drug than prescribed, and the drugs effects wore off before the 12 hour schedule. 

His ruling stated: “Plaintiff’s evidence suggests Purdue could test the safety and efficacy OxyContin for eight hours. They could also have changed their label but didn’t.” 

Purdue settled the case by agreeing to pay the US$10M (equivalent of approximately $14M in 2020) to the state for programs that discourage drug abuse. All evidence remained confidential and under seal.

May 2007In one of the most significant pharmaceutical settlements ever made in America, the company admitted to misinforming the public about OxyContin’s addiction risk and paid $600M (equivalent of approximately $749M in 2020). The company President Michael Friedman, Howard R. Udell’s top lawyer, and Paul D. Goldenheim, former chief medical officer, pleaded guilty individually to misbranding and criminal violations and were fined a total $34.5million.

Eight members of the billionaire Sackler family are being sued by multiple American cities, counties and states, including Richard, Jonathan, Mortimer, Kathe, David, Beverly and Theresa Pictured (left to right): Dr. Thomas Lynch, Richard Sackler, Jonathan Sackler, and Dean Robert Alpern; Seated: Mr. and Mrs. Raymond and Beverly Sackler

The lawsuits against eight members of the Sackler family, a billionaire, are spread across multiple American states and cities.

Friedman, Udell and Goldenheim each agreed to $19, $8, and $7.5 Million, respectively. Additionally, the three executives who were involved in this case were charged with felonies and sentenced for 400 hours of community work related to drug treatment programs.

September 4, 2007,Purdue was sued by Kentucky officials over OxyContin misuse in Appalachia. The lawsuit was filed by Greg Stumbo, then Kentucky’s Attorney General, and Pike County officials seeking millions of dollars in damages. Eight years later, Kentucky reached a settlement with Purdue worth $24 Million on December 23, 2015.

Jan 2017,Purdue was sued by Everett in Washington for increased costs resulting from OxyContin use. Purdue also failed to intervene when it noticed unusual patterns in sales of the product. 

Purdue is accused of failing to follow any legal agreements in order to monitor suspicious orders or black market use. According to the suit, false clinics were set up by untrustworthy doctors to treat homeless people who then purchased OxyContin and sold it to Everett citizens.

According to the suit the black-market sale of the drug from legal pharmacies located in Los Angeles, with distributions points at Everett, is another part of the City’s experience. 

Purdue did not contact the DEA to intervene for many years despite being aware of this practice as well as the sale and overuse of their product. In the suit, the plaintiff seeks reimbursement of costs relating to police, housing, rehabilitation, criminal justice system and park and recreations. Also, the lawsuit asks directly for compensation for the deaths or diminished quality of lives of Everett residents.

Mai 2018,: Six states—Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Tennessee and Texas—filed lawsuits charging deceptive marketing practices, adding to 16 previously filed lawsuits by other U.S. states and Puerto Rico.

In January 2019, Purdue Pharma was sued by 36 states. Maura Healey from Massachusetts claims that eight Sackler Family members are ‘personally liable for the deception. She claims they micromanaged a deceptive sales campaign.

February 2019,Purdue Pharma settled a case for $270m[53]Oklahoma filed the lawsuit, claiming that its opioids caused thousands of deaths.

The August 2019 UpdatePurdue Pharma was in talks with the Sackler Family to resolve the claims and pay $10-12 billion. Purdue Pharma will file a Chapter 11 petition. This Chapter 11 filing would become a public beneficiary trust. Any ownership by the Sackler Family in the company would be forfeited. The company’s addiction treatment drugs would be made available to the public at no cost. 

Purdue’s profits would now go directly to the plaintiffs. The Sackler Family would also contribute $3billion of cash. Mundipharma will be sold and another $1.5 billion would come from sales proceeds. 

However, Sackler’s family will remain a billionaire and they would not face criminal charges for contributing to the crisis.

September 2019,The New York Attorney general accused the Sackler clan of trying to hide money, wire at least $1billion from company accounts into personal accounts abroad.

To be announced in October 2020Purdue reached an $8 billion settlement, which included a $2 Billion criminal forfeiture and a $3.54 Billion criminal fine. It also received $2.8 billion damages to its civil liability. 

The company will admit to the three charges and will be made a public-benefit corporation under an agreement that requires it to take into account American public health. They will not be allowed to join the new company.

 Source: NPR, NBC News and WSJ