Year: 2021
Runtime: 80 minutes
Directors: Brendan Fitzgerald, Nick August-Perna

By Peggy Marie

Opening SXSW with “The Oxy Kingpins” (2021), a powerful documentary that gives us an inside look at who is really behind this whole culture of pharmaceuticals and who actually is responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans from all walks of life – and side note – it’s not the dealers.

Directors Brendan Fitzgerald and Nick August-Perna take to task here, interviewing some of the street distributors that end up spending time in prison for their role in dealing Oxycontin, and the startling reveal shows how little the part they actually play is in the big scheme of things. ‘Kingpins’ also gives the viewer an up close look at how personally dangerous it can be to try to get information of this dangerous criminal network, adding a consequence to making the film engaging and informative. But the narrative is straightforward, not only noting, but giving it the feeling of just how pressing and urgently this problem needs to be dealt with efficiently.

Fitzgerald and August-Perna’s motive is clear from the get-go in bringing to the forefront the team of lawyers that is fighting to bring the real criminals of this epidemic, the ones that should be held accountable for their actions, to justice. This helps the documentary in its quest to provides a sense of urgency that the audience can easily relate to. One of the biggest assets of this documentary is that it stays simple in its structure and avoids big courtroom drama as well as any dense or hard to understand terminology around its theme. It specifically addresses its viewers with only the necessary information to understand that this is a matter that has long been treated lightly and nothing was done in the meantime to bring these millionaire CEOs to face justice for their greed. The brave act of exposing the damning behavior of these companies and informing the public of the numbers of victims they leave behind in their trail, is surely one that deserves recognition.

Also noticeable is the sense of delivering more than just unnecessary points of view, but instead showing us actual human stories from the addicted themselves, the dealers, and from those who have lost loved ones due to it being given to them in any quantity requested — well over the amount of what one singular human being could even take. Some towns with populations of a couple of thousand residents at best, are given millions upon millions of doses of Oxycodone and the complicity of the small town doctors and pharmacists who set up ‘pain management clinics’ is also brought to the forefront. This isn’t a film that was created out of a personal vendetta or some type of ulterior motive, but it’s an all out exposure of the many entitled companies that use power to hide their footprint under the premise of providing drugs to those who supposedly need them. The fact that “The Oxy Kingpins” is made with straight up accurate facts and a straightforward delivery of them gives this story its true power. The result is a difficult, deep cutting piece that allows the audience to see the full scope of how pharmaceutical corporations truly operate and is constantly reminding us of the many who lost their lives or were used as pawns in a larger scheme to fill the pockets of these greedy businessmen and the companies they worked for.

Rarely do I get personal in a review – but this affected me in a very personal way. As someone who has had numerous surgeries I can well attest how at one point, in the early 2000’s, they were trying to give Oxy out like “Good ‘n Plenty” candy. I can’t even begin to count how many doctors tried to give it to me, as in pushed and pushed it on me. When I finally did try it – thankfully, the small amount taken was enough to make me say, “NOPE!” Sadly many people didn’t say no and lost their lives, their families, homes, and this included people from all walks of life.

It’s an eye opening look at how those responsible walked away with millions, and those not so responsible ended up in jail or lost their lives.

Review Screening: Courtesy of Betsy Ruddnick PR and SXSW Film Festival

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