‘Dopesick’: Danny Strong Found Richard Sackler ‘Very Difficult to Find Anyone to Say Anything Nice About’

Hulu‘s new drama Dopesick, created by Danny Strong, centers around Richard Sackler and his family company, Purdue Pharmaceuticals. The 8-episode drama chronicles the Sackler family’s involvement in the opioid epidemic based on Beth Macy’s nonfiction book. When Strong created the characters for TV, he didn’t intend to villainize Richard Sackler (portrayed by Michael Stuhlbarg). However, the showrunner found it very difficult to find any positive information about the former chairman and president of Purdue Pharma.

Dopesick cast members Michael Stuhlbarg and Andrea Frankle as Richard and Beth Sackler
‘Dopesick’: Michael Stuhlbarg and Andrea Frankle | Gene Page/Hulu

Who is Richard Sackler in ‘Dopesick’?’

In Hulu’s Dopesick, viewers see Richard Sackler as head of OxyContin development and sales. He continually finds new ways to market the highly addictive drug throughout the series while downplaying its addictiveness. Sackler specifically targets small rurual mining communities where miners commonly suffer from chronic pain. He enlists the help of Russell Portenoy and J. David Haddox to spin a new narrative within the medical community, claiming that OxyContin was not addictive.

In 1999, Sackler became the president of Purdue Pharma and purchased their sprawling headquarters at One Stamford Forum. In addition, all of the events surrounding Richard Sackler in Dopesick are historical facts that Danny Strong found through research and interviews.

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‘Dopesick’ creator Danny Strong tried to humanize the Purdue Pharma president

In a recent interview, a reporter with The Takeaway asked Danny Strong about his decision to portray those at the very top, particularly Richard Sackler, as villains in Dopesick.

“Richard Sackler was the godfather who was managing the production and launch and distribution of oxycontin,” Strong explained to the outlet. “He was the person overseeing this. We had to portray him as a character in the show. Then it gets a little more complicated because he’s perceived in such a negative light.”

As with any drama, Strong wanted to show the different sides of Richard Sackler’s personality in Dopesick. However, it was a difficult task.

“How can I multi-dimensionalize him?” Strong pondered. “So then I was able to interview some people that knew him. They disliked him more than the activists. It was very difficult to find anyone to say anything nice about Richard Sackler. Clearly, this is a very complicated individual — an individual that puts people off even when he’s in the company of him. I thought there had to be something more to this than greed. What else is motivating him?”

'Dopesick' Episode 5: Kathe and Richard Sackler talk
Jaime Ray Newman as Kathe Sackler and Michael Stuhlbarg as Richard Sackler | Gene Page/Hulu

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Strong tried to crack the mystery of what was really happening with Richard Sackler that made him continue pushing OxyContin despite widespread drug abuse.

“There are dimensions to it that are interesting, that are human, that go deeper than I think people would have expected,” Strong added.

‘Dopesick’: Where is Richard Sackler now?

According to The New Yorker, Richard Sackler moved to Austin, Texas, in 2013. Currently, he lives on the outskirts of the city in a modern mansion atop a hill. He stepped down from his title of Purdue Pharma president in 2003, but he remained co-chairman of the company’s board at that time. Richard and Beth Sackler divorced and have three children together — Rebecca, Marianna, and David.

In September 2021, according to the New York Times, Purdue won the approval of a plan to dissolve Purdue Pharma legally. Consequently, the company pays out $4.5 billion to restructure into a public benefit company focused on helping address and repay the individuals and families affected by the opioid epidemic. However, the plan is widely opposed because it gives the Sacklers too much legal protection, allowing them to keep a large portion of their fortune.

Dopesick drops to Hulu weekly on Wednesdays at 12:01 EST. The series finale airs on Nov. 17, 2021.