Is Netflix's Painkiller based on a true story? The inspiration behind the gripping new series

Here's what you need to know about the real Sackler family...

Netflix's Painkiller
(Image credit: Netflix)

Netflix's Painkiller has just launched on the streaming platform and fans are obsessed with this new series based on real-life events.

Painkiller, starring Uzo Aduba and Matthew Broderick launched on Thursday, August 10, 2023, on Netflix and has already caught the attention of fans who love the gritty show's twists and turns. Netflix says that the show is a 'fictionalized telling of real events, explores some of the origins and aftermath of the opioid crisis in America, highlighting the stories of perpetrators, victims, and truth-seekers whose lives are forever altered by the invention of OxyContin'. But how accurate is this show and what is the true story behind Painkiller? Here is what you need to know...

Is Netflix's Painkiller based on a true story?

The show Painkiller is based on a real pharmaceutical company, Purdue Pharma. The business ceased operation in 2021 but was principally owned by members of the Sackler family as descendants of Mortimer and Raymond Sackler.

In real life, this company was blamed for fuelling the opioid epidemic because of its wide distribution of OxyContin.

The story is actually based on an article that was published in the New Yorker that looked at the Sackler family's association with the mass production and distribution of pain relief drugs. The article was an investigative report by Patrick Radden Keefe which was published in 2017 and titled, The Family That Built an Empire of Pain. The six-part series was also inspired by  (and took its title from) Barry Meier’s 2018 book, Pain Killer: An Empire of Deceit and the Origin of America's Opioid Epidemic. This story has also been told in other TV shows such as Hulu's drama miniseries Dopesick.


(Image credit: Netflix)

Pain Killer by Barry Meier, £10.99 | Waterstones

Pain Killer by Barry Meier, £10.99 | Waterstones

Investigative journalist Barry Meier was the first to write about the elusive Sackler family, their role in this catastrophic epidemic and the army of local doctors, law enforcement and worried parents that tried to bring them down.

Who are the Sacklers?

The Sackler family is a real family who are best known for owning Purdue Pharma which was founded by John Purdue Gray in 1892. The family comes from generations of wealth donated generously to many of the world’s leading institutions, such as Yale University, the Guggenheim Museum, the Serpentine Gallery, and the Royal Academy.

When OxyContin was released in 1996, it became a huge source of the Sackler family's wealth but also sparked a number of lawsuits following the opioid crisis in America. 

In 2007 the company admitted to misbranding OxyContin when a case was raised about the safety of the drug. However, the family has not admitted to wrongdoing. Nearly all 50 states have filed lawsuits against Purdue and Sackler and the company proposed a $10 to $12 billion settlement.


(Image credit: Netflix)

Where is Richard Sackler now?

Matthew Broderick portrayed Dr Richard Sackler in the Netflix drama, but what happened to the real Richard Sackler after Purdue Pharma shut down? 

Richard is currently 78 years old and has an estimated worth of $1.1billion (as of 2023). It has been reported that since the dissolution of the pharmaceutical company and the numerous lawsuits and payouts that the Sacklers had to pay to the victims of the opioid crisis, the Sacklers have been selling off their assets.

It was reported in February 2023, by The New York Post that Richard had sold off £30 million in property. The outlet claimed that Richard had also downsized to a smaller property in Florida. "Sackler has since downsized to a four-bedroom, seven-bathroom Boca Raton estate, which he purchased for $1.71 million in June 2021. The home spans 5,300 square feet," reported the New York Post.

Laura Harman

Laura is a news writer for woman&home who primarily covers entertainment and celebrity news. Laura dabbles in lifestyle, royal, beauty, and fashion news, and loves to cover anything and everything to do with television and film. She is also passionate about feminism and equality and loves writing about gender issues and feminist literature.

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