The 5th Vital Sign
Episode 3 of Dopesick begins in 1999. It’s been 3 years since the launch of OxyContin and doctors in the medical profession have been infiltrated by Purdue Pharma. They pedal a new buzzword, claiming that pain is the 5th vital sign.
Back in 1996, Finnix decides he wants to wean Betsy off OxyContin. Betsy isn’t exactly thrilled about it but Finnix is concerned and wants her to live her best life. As she leaves his office, Betsy throws her pills in the trash, ready to be rid of these drugs.
Meanwhile, Michael joins Richard Sackler and the others and suggests they should focus on individualizing the dose for individuals. That way, they don’t have to start patients off with 10mg at a time. After Richard approves this, he goes on to mention how he has bigger plans. He wants to try and get Germany onboard and break OxyContin into the European market.
In order to try and drive the sales targets up, Purdue run a Toppers contest by adding a prize of an all-expenses-paid trip to Bermuda. Billy Cutler is determined to win but cutthroat Amber has no plans to go with him if she wins.
In 2003, the court case goes ahead and with Purdue broadly claiming there’s a “national pain movement”, the court side with Big Pharma to begin with, telling Randy and John they need something more substantial.
Now, given Randy has surgery for his prostate cancer, when he awakens in hospital after he finds the doctor determined to give him OxyContin. They push it pretty hard too, with a senior doctor even showing up and trying to pressure him into it. He defiantly refuses though, prompting the doctors to leave.
During this same year, Bridget continues to look into OxyConttin and realizes that this prescription drug is causing jails to fill up. The trouble is, it’s nationwide and given the genie has already been released, trying to get it back in the lamp now is next to impossible. And that’s not made easier when Purdue lawyers – including Amber – are threatening to sued and shut down clinics and hospitals if they don’t sell OxyContin.
Back in 1996, Betsy begins to suffer from horrible side effects after not being on OxyContin. She’s dizzy, vomiting and visibly sweating. She’s not eating either, and as she sits at the table, her father nonchalantly mentions how being a homosexual is the worst thing in the world. Betsy speaks up and promises to leave, calling out how she’s clearly not welcome in this house anymore.
During work the next day, things go from bad to worse for Betsy. One lapse in concentration sees a massive explosion knock her off her feet after failing to read the methane monitor. Her colleague, Eddie, is going to lose his right arm while Betsy comes under fire for the damage she’s inadvertently caused in the mine. She’s confused and scared, trembling as she remains confused over what’s happening to her.
Meanwhile, Bridget has had enough. She believes the FDA are colluding with Purdue and given Curtis Wright is not working directly in-line to all of this, she’s determined to get to the bottom of all this. Or, at least she would be. Her boss decides to transfer her and give her a promotion at the same time, up to becoming the deputy director. It’s a thinly disguised way of getting her off the case and keeping things above water.
As we soon come to learn, Purdue have infiltrated every part of the medial community, including the Appalachian Pain Society, who are adamant that Oxy isn’t addictive. It turns out they’re actually funded by Purdue – along with a number of other “individual” organizations.
In essence, this is a stealth tool to promote conversations about pain and bring more attention to Purdue, which in turn sees sales of Oxy go up. This single statement in court is enough for the judge to allow an investigation further into Purdue’s marketing strategies.
Over at Purdue, the competition ends and a guy called Todd wins. It turns out he’s only won because he’s landed a “whale”. In other words, a doctor who over-prescribes opioids to his patients. He should be reported for it but when these sales reps are directly benefiting from fat bonuses, who’s going to speak up?
Following the explosion at the mine, Dr Finnix receives a call and is recommended to head back to town. Only, on the road he winds up getting hit by another car that ploughs into the side of him. At hospital, Finnix is inevitably prescribed OxyContin but the doctor decides to start him on 20mg. Finnix isn’t exactly thrilled with the idea, and remains conflicted over whether to take it or not.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the lawyers find themselves drowning in paperwork as Purdue intend to completely suffocate them and make their job a lot harder than it ordinarily would.
Meanwhile, Richard Sackler reveals that he intends to break Germany’s market for the sole purpose of it being so much of a challenge. If he can do it, then OxyContin could go on to become a massive opioid across the world, seeing his dream of “healing the world” come to fruition.
The Episode Review
Things are starting to heat up now in Dopesick, as all our different characters find themselves diving deeper down the rabbit hole into this OxyContin mess. It’s clear that Bridget’s promotion is simply a ploy to keep her distracted and off the case, while the lawyers win the battle but find themselves drowning in paperwork as a result of this.
Finnix is arguably the one caught in the middle of this, with both medical knowhow and firsthand experience of seeing Purdue and his patients deteriorate. It could well be that he’s the most important witness that they’ve got going forward.
Either way, Dopesick has been a thoroughly enjoyable show and with sharp writing, good editing and an absolutely absorbing story, this is definitely turning into a must-watch.