STORIES ABOUT the profit-driven pitfalls of Big Pharma in America are having an on-screen moment.

From fictionalised dramas such as Dopesick, The Drop Out and Pain Killerto documentaries like Nan Goldin’s All The Beauty And All The Bloodshed, we’re well served for projects that delve into just how much misery can emerge from the unchecked proliferation of prescription pain drugs. Well, there’s more to come. Chris Evans and Emily Blunt will now star in Pain Hustlers, a Netflix film that is also based on a true story about a pharmaceutical scam.

Here’s everything you need to know about the up-coming movie.

What’s the big idea?

Blunt stars as Liza Drake, a “blue-collar single mum” who loses her job, which puts her in a desperate situation. She gets involved in business with a pharma sales rep, Pete Brenner (Evans)—but his failing start-up soon becomes involved in “a dangerous racketeering scheme” that destroys lives. Will Liza’s ethics and morals ever kick in, or is she simply in it to make cold, hard cash at any cost?

Is it based on a true story?

While the character of Liza is fictional, the plot of the film is heavily drawn from real-life events, first reported by the New York Times journalist Evan Hughes in 2018 and later turned into a book, called The Hard Sell: Crime and Punishment at an Opioid Startup

In an investigative feature headlined “The Pain Hustlers”, Hughes uncovered the corrupt story of Insys Therapeutics, a pharmaceutical company that employed nefarious racketeering tactics with prescription drugs. The main product? A highly potent opioid painkiller called Subsys, a prescription version of fentanyl.

Insys essentially paid doctors to prescribe the highly-addictive Subsys to their patients, and while it was a drug more suited to cancer patients dealing with “breakthrough pain” or who were terminal, it was more freely prescribed to anyone feeling any type of pain.

Sales reps marketing the drug at Insys were also rewarded with massive windfalls. Statnews reported that “a sales rep in Alabama was paid a base salary of $40,000 but received more than $700,000 in commissions from 2013 to 2015 based on the volume of off-label prescriptions written by doctors she called on, according to court records.”

According to The Guardian: “[CEO John] Kapoor oversaw a marketing strategy in which payments to doctors, ostensibly for speeches at educational seminars, were effectively bribes to prescribe the drug. Prosecutors said the seminars were no more than social gatherings at restaurants, bars and strip clubs. 

“In one instance, the company paid nearly $260,000 to two New York doctors who wrote more than $6m worth of Subsys prescriptions in 2014.”

In 2019 Insys’ Kapoor was eventually sentenced to five and a half years for engaging in a racketeering conspiracy. In the same year, the company agreed to pay $225 million to settle the federal government’s criminal and civil investigations, but later went bankrupt.

Pain Hustlers

Who else stars in the film?

Andy Garcia stars as Liza’s “unhinged boss” and other faces of note in the film are Schitt’s Creek’s Catherine O’Hara, Industry’s Jay Duplass, Chloe Coleman (Avatar: The Way Of Water) and Brian d’Arcy James, last seen in 2021’s remake of West Side Story.

David Yates—who directed the last five Harry Potter movies—is on directing duties, with a script by short story author turned screenwriter Wells Tower.

Is there a trailer?

Yes, up top.

When’s it out?

Pain Hustlers hits Netflix on October 27.

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