Pain Hustlers (2023) Movie: Opioid Epidemic & Another Drug Company

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Pain Hustlers (2023) Movie Featured Image

Pain Hustlers is a movie about the opioid epidemic and the involvement of another big pharmaceutical drug company in America. And greed comes to the fore, once again.

In a way, the original NYT 2018 article titled ‘The Pain Hustlers’ was the first to talk about the central idea of this movie. This news article is about the out-in-the-open nature of the pharmaceutical industry’s failures. In fact, at a later date, Evan Hughes – the author of the said article also came out with the book titled ‘Pain Hustler – Crime And Punishment At An Opioid Startup’.

Both the article and the book by Evan Hughes detailed the inside story of a band of entrepreneurial upstarts who made millions selling painkillers—until their scheme unravelled, putting them at the centre of a landmark criminal trial in the United States of America. Therefore, in a way, the said book inspired this particular movie.

Synopsis [official summary] of the Pain Hustlers (2023) movie

Liza Drake (Emily Blunt) is a blue-collar single mom who has just lost her job and is at the end of her rope. A chance meeting with pharmaceutical sales rep Pete Brenner (Chris Evans) puts her on an upward trajectory economically but dubiously path ethically as she becomes entangled in a dangerous racketeering scheme.

Dealing with her increasingly unhinged boss Dr Neel (Andy Garcia), the worsening medical condition of her daughter Phoebe Drake (Chloe Coleman), and a growing awareness of the devastation the company is causing forces Liza to examine her choices. Pain Hustlers is a sharp and revealing look at what some people do out of desperation and others do out of greed.

Spoiler Free Review of the Pain Hustlers (2023) movie

We have seen the ‘Dopesick‘ show about the opioid crisis in America. And that award-winning show really touched our hearts. Now, this film is also about the opioid issues.

However, unlike ‘Dopesick’, this particular movie ‘Pain Hustlers’ takes a different approach towards the ongoing opioid epidemic in the United States of America.

So, how is this film about the Opioid epidemic?

In this film, the Zanna Therapeutics company is pushing the Lonafen drug using all kinds of lucrative inducements. The owner of the said drug company, Dr Jack Neel (Andy Garcia) developed the Lonafen drug. This particular drug is a fentanyl-based medication that delivers pain relief quickly to patients suffering from cancer. It is worth noting that Fentanyl is a potent synthetic piperidine opioid drug.

Well then, what is the basic story of the movie?

We get to see a surprising ecosystem where pharmaceutical representatives (pharma reps) find it astonishingly easy to influence physicians (Medical Doctors) to prescribe their medicines in this film. These pharma reps not only rig the game by funnelling bribes for doctors through “speaker programs” but they also motivate physicians to get medication (like the fictional Lonafen) prescribed without understanding the risks for their patients.

These workaday reps would be represented by a team of salespeople at the fictional Zanna Therapeutics company, fronted by Liza Drake (Emily Blunt) and Pete Brenner (Chris Evans).

The protagonist is a broke but ambitious single mom Liza Drake (Emily Blunt) in this film. Then, one day, she lands a lucrative opportunity in pharma sales.

“The arc of Liza’s journey is the classic rags-to-riches one, but because she succeeds by navigating a particularly tricky moral maze, her rise is ultimately bittersweet. . . In the case of this story, unless the system is properly policed, and you’re playing by certain rules, you can hurt people.”

David Yates, Director

Liza’s journey takes her deep into the dark heart of the pharmaceutical industry in the USA, wherein she bluffs her way into, and she’s ultimately complicit in Zanna’s victimization of addicted patients. But how far will she go to turn a potent new (opioid-based) painkiller into a success? This is the basic story of this film.

They could have tightened up its script

Somehow, we could not emotionally connect with Liza’s story. That is one of the biggest drawbacks of this film. The goof-ups related to the medical condition of the AVM (arteriovenous malformation) of Phoebe Drake (Liza’s young daughter) and healthcare plans really did not help matters. Not to forget the following mistake.

Sharing one of the goof-up details

Liza gifts her mother Jackie a Mercedes-Benz SUV in 2011-2012, the period when this film is set. Rather amusingly, however, that SUV was introduced in 2019.

To check the 2019 SUV – see the featured image in this article.

We only wish they could have further tightened up its script. Besides the lack of focus, the absence of emotional depth in its story did not really help the film.

Maybe, our expectations were too high from its director David Yates. He has charmed us with his Harry Potter and the Fantastic Beasts movie series in not so distant past.

A few things that we liked and disliked about this film

One of the redeeming features of this film is the presence of charming Emily Blunt (Liza Drake), her acting is adorable and bewitching. Also, Chloe Coleman (Phoebe Drake) has done well here. We wish that its writers could have given them more sentimental depth to her characters. Both of them tried hard to carry this film, and they succeeded to an extent.

No doubt, this film has a great collection of ensemble cast members – Chris Evans (Pete Brenner), Andy Garcia (Dr Neel) and Catherine O’Hara (Jackie); but they didn’t impress.

The conclusion

Despite all kinds of shortcomings, this film manages to educate us about some of the big-bad pharma companies and their shady practices. It is a moderately entertaining movie.

Rating of the Pain Hustlers (2023) movie

FM’s rating3.50/5
FM’s short commentsEmily Blunt (Liza Drake) brings in lots of energy and style in her performance as the (unqualified) medical representative of the Big Pharma company. However, this movie about the opioid epidemic and the involvement of another big pharmaceutical drug company seems repetitive Still, it is an interesting drama told from a different perspective.
FM Rating of the Pain Hustlers (2023) movie.

Spoiler Alerts – info. about the real company and the real people

Who are the real company and the real people who have inspired this film

The characters and product names in this film are fictionalized. Maybe it was done for the legal reasons.

So, what is the name of the real company?

Well, actually the name of the company was Insys Therapeutics. Also, the name of the drug was the sublingual fentanyl drug was Subsys.

And what about real people?

Well, the founder of the said company was John Kapoor in real life. In this film, his name was changed to Dr Neel and he was portrayed by actor Andy Garcia.

Besides, Maria Guzman was the name of the sales rep-turned-whistleblower in real life. She was named Liza Drake in the film and actress Emily Blunt played her role.

The fate of the owner/executives of the said pharmaceutical company in real life.

The fate of company executives and physicians (Doctors) in real life

Later on, eventually, there were several whistleblowers who filed suit against the said company. As a result, several Insys executives were convicted on racketeering charges. Also, many physicians were jailed for their fraudulent prescribing practices. Rather interestingly, the Subsys (medicine) brand is still on the market. However, this brand is now owned by BTcP Pharma who pledged to only market the drug for cancer-related pain – its original intent.

The Fate of John Kapoor in real life

Well, as per the website – John Kapoor – the Founder and Former Chairman of the Board of Insys Therapeutics Sentenced to 66 Months in Prison.

John Kapoor was convicted by a federal jury of racketeering conspiracy along with 4 other Insys executives in May 2019. Thereby, the U.S. District Court Judge Allison D. Burroughs sentenced John Kapoor, 76, of Phoenix, Ariz., to 66 months in prison and 3 years of supervised release. The court also ordered John Kapoor to pay forfeiture and restitution to be determined at a later date. The government had recommended a sentence of 15 years in prison.

“Out of pure greed, Insys executives, from John Kapoor on down, bribed doctors to prescribe this powerful and highly addictive narcotic to people who did not need it. Despite increasing public fears of a drug epidemic fueled by pain pill prescriptions, these defendants, led by Kapoor, ploughed ahead, setting weekly quotas for doctors on their payroll, urging them to prescribe Subsys in higher and higher doses, all so they could make millions of dollars at patients’ expense. Their disregard for the public’s health and safety is nothing short of appalling. This case is not only about punishing these defendants. It is also about making the next pharmaceutical company think twice about its sales tactics and the basic corporate responsibility to not victimize the public. . . This was a landmark prosecution that successfully held accountable a pharmaceutical company’s top executives for their roles in the illicit marketing and prescribing of opioids.”

United States Attorney Andrew E. Lelling

Poster of this 2023 Hollywood movie about the opioid epidemic

Pain Hustlers (2023) Movie Poster
Pain Hustlers (2023) Movie Poster

Key details of this 2023 Hollywood movie about the opioid epidemic

GenreCrime, Drama
Original languageEnglish (USA)
Age-restrictionsA (18+)
Released inOctober, 2023
Duration2 hours 4 minutes
WritersWells Tower & Evan Hughes
DirectorDavid Yates
CastEmily Blunt (Liza Drake), Chloe Coleman (Phoebe Drake), Chris Evans (Pete Brenner), Andy Garcia (Dr Neel), Brian d’Arcy James (Dr Lydell), Amit Shah (Eric Paley), Jay Duplass (Larkin), Catherine O’Hara (Jackie), etc.
TaglinesShe Deals Your Pain.
Your Pain Is His Payday.
An American Excess Story.
About – Pain Hustlers (2023) Movie.

Trailer of this 2023 Hollywood movie about the opioid epidemic

Official trailer – Pain Hustlers (2023) Movie – Netflix | YouTube.

Featured Image and Poster of the Pain Hustlers (2023) Movie | Netflix.

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