Prescription Thugs is a 2016 documentary film by Chris Bell, the same guy who brought us Bigger, Faster, Stronger. Similar to a Michael Moore piece, it is slick, entertaining and built to be shocking.
The film is also deeply personal. Bell brings his own experiences, both as someone addicted, as well as someone who has lost a family member due to prescription drug addiction—his own brother. This brings an added depth to the film and yet some reviews have cited that Bell’s own painkiller addiction actually kills his credibility. Is that so? The fact that a director having a prescription drug addiction makes him less credible on a film about that exact addiction goes to show just how little people truly understand addiction and those who struggle with it.
Then again, that's not the real problem with this film.
Bell, the cast and interviewees in the film drop numerous bombs throughout, such as “We are 5% of the world population, but we consume 75% of the world’s pills” and “The top 11 pharmaceutical companies made 711 billion dollars in profit.”
Devastating statistics, no doubt, but—let’s face it—we’ve heard this before. Sure, perhaps we all don’t know the exact figures, but if you ask around, you'll find that most people are well aware that doctors overprescribe and that pharmaceutical companies net billions of dollars a year on those prescriptions.
Welcome to the United States of Addiction.
Catchy, but is it really so surprising?
The fact that this is supposed to be shocking news speaks volumes about the real problem in America. The problem is not only that we are addicted; it's that we still live in denial about the addiction.
The interviews with former drug company reps state the obvious, as does the statement that pharmaceutical companies are drug dealers. Again, a moment of truth that is intended to give a dose of shocking reality, but to no real shock at all. The public is aware of the problem and yet they pop open another bottle of Ambien or feed their kid another Adderall. We all know the problem. What no one is giving us is a solution.
As a country, it often seems like the only votes that count are the ones we make with our dollars. This same power also shows us where these company’s interests truly lie and that it’s not with the American people. Left to fend for ourselves, the general population is starting to see the reality of the cost this epidemic has on our nation. As long as the demand is present, the supply will continue. And, as has already been evidenced by the calculated actions of the people who brought us Oxycontin—the Sackler cartel—if the demand isn't there, it can be created, which is in part what got us where we are today.
Prescription Thugs isn't the first film to expose this problem. And like others, there doesn't seem to be a ready solution. That's the real problem here. There's no call to action; no answers. People will watch the film, shake their heads and go about their lives. Lastly, people will dismiss Chris Bell because, after all, he's just an addict—what does he know? Furthermore, some will say our problem is that we just have no willpower and that it could never happen to them.
What we as an audience today need more than ever is a film that talks less about the problem and more about the solution. As Prescription Thugs reveals, we're obviously not there yet. As a country, it seems we still have our heads in the sand, are waiting for someone with power to come in and stop the madness, or may be hoping that big pharma will change their greedy ways. Unfortunately, the latter is just not going to happen.
Adding to the problem is that the country believes the last place to look for a solution is with the people who have actually been through the problem, found a solution and come out on the other side.
But then again, those people are just addicts, right? What do they really know?