Back in 1971, President Nixon declared drug abuse as America’s “public enemy number one”. From crack cocaine to heroin right the way through to marijuana and MDMA, the War On Drugs was ultimately a failure, with the Government admitting as much way back in 2011.
Since this time drug use has soared and with it, the number of drug-related criminal convictions in the United States. What happens then when the chemists in charge of those convictions for supposed drug users start tampering with the evidence and taking drugs themselves? Step forward Netflix’s How To Fix A Drug Scandal.
This four-part true crime series may not be as shocking or wild as some of the other efforts Netflix have put out recently but what it lacks in shocks and twists, it more than makes up for with stylish presentation and interesting narration. Although the series has a tendency to re-use a lot of the re-enactment scenes and the transcript sections will almost certainly feel distracting if you opt to put subtitles on, there’s enough in this series to make this 4-hour deep dive into the world of drugs worth the trip.
The story essentially revolves around two chemists, Sonja Farak and Annie Dookhan, who work on opposites sides of Massachusetts in the United States. Between the two of them they tampered with evidence, took narcotics while working and even stole evidence for their own personal, recreational use. The first episode crams in an awful lot of information into its 50 minute run-time, with Farah on the stand giving evidence, Dookhan arrested and background surrounding the former’s personal life all interwoven together into the narrative.
There’s also information here around how narcotics are tested in the lab, including an introduction to Bench Chemistry, along with victims affected by Farah and Dookhan’s behaviour. The series does settle down into a more consistent rhythm after the first episode, with the latter segments giving more focus to both women at the forefront of this scandal, with the tens of thousands of previous cases called into question thanks to this tampering of evidence.
It’s a startling case too and one that makes you question just how far the rabbit hole goes while you’re watching. During this time the series does a great job visualizing its story, with a visible timeline of events jumping back and forth through time and plenty of fade edits to add to this too. The visual representation of audio transcripts is a nice touch, along with various video re-enactments and talking heads that pad out the run-time. All of this builds up to a climactic final episode and plenty to ponder when the series ends.
While the show is enjoyable enough, and the visual flair helps to give this a stylish edge, the case itself lacks the same “wow” factor that other true crime series have had as of late. Of course, How To Fix A Drug Scandal is well worth a watch and its four-part run-time is attractive enough to see you take the plunge and watch all four episodes to see how this one ends.
While it’s unlikely to hit the same prolific heights efforts like Tiger King or Making A Murderer have reached, this is a solid enough series nonetheless, one that asks big questions around the criminal justice system and paints an increasingly scrutinous eye on those at the top.