As The Guardian notes, the show unfolds in “three strands.” One concerns the real-life company Purdue Pharma and its billionaire president, Richard Sackler. In “Dopesick,” Sackler is brought to the screen by regular Coen Brothers collaborator Michael Stuhlbarg, who plays him “with the creepy intensity of a Bond villain,” per NPR critic Eric Deggans, a portrayal that numerous commentators on the opioid crisis, including Beth Macy, would surely agree is apposite.
Sacker’s father, Raymond, bought Purdue Pharma in 1952, along with his brother, Mortimer. Both were doctors, and the two shared options in the company with their older brother, Arthur, a psychiatrist. According to The New Yorker, Arthur passed on the belief to the younger Sacklers that they should “Leave the world a better place than when you entered it.” In the second half of the 20th century, the Sackler name became synonymous with philanthropy and patronage of the arts, while they expanded their wealth to become one of the richest families in America.
But the actions of Richard Sackler would see the family rebranded in the 21st century as “the family that built an empire on pain,” per The New Yorker. As Stat describes, in the late 1980s Sackler, who was then assistant to his father, the president of Purdue Pharma, concocted a scheme by which to circumvent the company’s bestselling opioid painkiller, MS Contin, going off-patent. Sackler oversaw the reformulation the drug with a newly-developed coating that supposedly gave the drug a slow release action and reducing the risk of opioid addiction, and rebranding it as OxyContin.