While there are countless documentaries and tv shows and movies that detail how regular Americans lives have been affected by the opioid epidemic, The Oxy Kingpins tells the previously untold story of the role that manufacturers and distributors have played in the opioid epidemic in the United States. The documentary focuses on Mike Papantonio, from Levin Papantonio law firm in Pensacola, Florida, as he builds a case against some of the largest and wealthiest companies in the country.
The Oxy Kingpins begins with a former drug dealer, Alex, detailing how Oxycontin is really just “doctor-approved heroin”. Along with Alex, we have people like Doug, the Oxy supplier, who’s voice is is distorted and face blacked out, and other characters such as Jay and Cowboy, Boston “salesmen”. While most of these regular folk have spent time in prisons for their role in the drug trade, manufacturers have been getting away with their role in the opioid epidemic for decades.
Alex and the fellow ‘regular’ people involved in the drug trade tell all about the logistics of their hustle, and how shockingly easy it was to get their supply from pharmacies. We’ve all heard about how so many people who’ve been prescribed opiates like Oxycontin and Percocet have moved on to becoming addicted to heroin, but The Oxy Kingpins really gives us a look into how and why so many people were prescribed these drugs in the first place.
The Oxy Kingpins remains compelling throughout, as Mike Papantonio begins to build his legal case against Oxycontin manufacturers, who are some of the biggest “health care” corporations in the world. The evidence that manufacturers and distributors are complicit in the opioid epidemic is horrifying. As Papantonio says of distributors, they are “masters at rationalizing the ugly conduct they participate in”, and this is shown over and over again as evidence is uncovered, from the distributors own emails and press materials. These corporations have tried to blame doctors and blame the addicts themselves, trying to remove any blame from themselves. What The Oxy Kingpins does it make it abundantly clear that those at the top of the chain are absolutely guilty.
Although The Oxy Kingpins tells the story of a law firm building a case, it also focuses on the regular people who have been affected by the opioid crisis, and it does an excellent job telling their stories. The documentary never loses sight of the fact that behind all the numbers and statistics are real people who have faced addiction or lost loved ones. The Oxy Kingpins asks directly, why are corporations protected from their crimes when the average person can wind up in prison for their addiction?
The Oxy Kingpins comes from The Young Turks production company, TYT Productions, and premieres at SXSW Online 2021 in the Documentary Feature Competition. It’s an excellent dive into the subject, and at 80 minutes long, is really just a glimpse into the world of opioid manufacturers and the real-life villains at the top of the chain.
SXSW is March 16 – March 20. Tickets and a full lineup can be found here.
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