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Award-Winning Journalist Macy on 'Dopesick' TV Series, Ongoing Opioid Crisis

The best-selling book Dopesick centers on the opioid epidemic in parts of Virginia, and how devastated families sought to hold drug maker Purdue Pharma accountable.

Beth Macy
Evan Agostini/Evan Agostini/Invision/AP
Executive producer Beth Macy attends the premiere of the Hulu Original Series "Dopesick" at the Museum of Modern Art on Monday, Oct 4, 2021, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

It’s now a limited series on Hulu, starring Michael Keaton. Labeled by its creator as ‘the trial that never happened,’ the show, which was filmed in Virginia, premiered this week.

Morning Edition Host Jeff Bossert talked with author and award-winning journalist Beth Macy on the efforts to adapt her non-fiction novel into a drama series.

She said the show launched as a bidding war between producers, when one production company didn't know another had already optioned the book.

"I'm sure we were both a little skeptical of each other's version of the story at first, but very quickly we meshed," Macy said. She said the show was always discussed as a limited series on the opioid crisis, from the introduction of the drug OxyContin in 1996, to the resolution of the first federal case against Purdue Pharma in 2007.

"Part of the reason there are so many barriers (for those seeking help for Opioid Use Disorder) is that we stigmatize them as addicts. I'm hoping this show will open minds, soften hearts, so that we start closing that treatment gap"
Writer Beth Macy

The show is the vision of producer Danny Strong, who told the story of the victims through composite characters. The cast also includes Peter Saarsgard, Kaitlyn Dever, and Rosario Dawson.

Dopesick.jpg
Janet Daily, 20th Television
Marketing materials for Dopesick

"We were able to put in things that I had learned from various people into one character, and it really is a powerful way to get at a universal truth," Macy said. "Danny (Strong) calls our show the trial that never happened."

The story of Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family in the Hulu series is taken directly from many reports on the issue.

Macy, a former reporter for the Roanoke Times with three books to her credit, is also a screenwriter on the series, which she said was not an easy transition.

"I love taking ten pages to explain the history, for instance, of the war on drugs. Actually I take about thirty pages to explain it (in a book due out in 2022) - you could never do that in a TV show, because you have to show it. You don't cut a TV show with a scene that's basically a PowerPoint."

Here's Jeff Bossert's extended conversation with Macy.
Listen to an extended interview with Beth Macy.

The first three episodes of Dopesick the series are now available on Hulu. Macy says there no current plans for a second season, but remains open to the possibility. The series was shot in parts of Richmond, as well as Clifton Forge.

Macy's next book, about drug abuse, due out August 2022, is called 'Raising Lazarus- Hope, Justice, and the Future of America’s Drug Crisis.'

She's interested in writing about the rural/urban divide, but has no immediate plans after the next book, saying she's looking forward to a little break.