Dr. Curtis Wright In ‘Painkiller,’ Explained: Why Did Curtis Approve OxyContin?


The medical profession is considered to be the noblest line of work, but Painkillers showed us the dark side of it and made us privy to the devastating reality of irresponsible doctors. This is the only profession where a Hippocratic oath is taken by the practitioners because if they partake in any sort of corrupt practice, they are not only setting a bad precedent but literally endangering the lives of people. In countries like India, doctors have always been kept on a high pedestal and believed to be next to gods because it is often they who determine the difference between life and death for a patient. When a person in a critical stage goes to a hospital, his entire family looks to the one man wearing a white coat, and they put all their faith in him. Now imagine that a doctor first assures them that everything will be fine and then makes sure that they are condemned to a slow and painful death. Where marketing campaigns did have an impact on the perception that people had about OxyContin, the medical practitioners of the United States also had a key role to play in it. Had the doctors not prescribed it and not told their patients that it was the safest painkiller they could ever consume, the opioid epidemic wouldn’t have ever plagued American society, no matter how much Purdue Pharma tried to bring it to market.

After Richard Sackler and his team created OxyContin, all they had to do was get the FDA approval, and then they knew that they could start the distribution on a wide scale. Richard was very sure that getting FDA approval wouldn’t be a hassle, and he didn’t take into consideration the possibility that the government officer sitting there could have any sort of objection to the legitimacy of the reports and the claims made by Purdue Pharma. As Edie Flowers said in her testimony, the FDA doesn’t conduct its own tests; they just check whatever reports have been submitted to them. The approval application for OxyContin went to Dr. Curtis Wright, who is a real life person portrayed in the Netflix Painkiller series.

Richard Sackler had believed that his application would get approved without any fuss, but he was quite stunned when his company received a rejection notice. Curtis Wright had told the Purdue Pharma team that he didn’t agree that it was the right thing to let the doctors prescribe the pill at such early stages when the person could do without it as well. Curtis also raised concerns about the drug being prone to abuse, but Sackler and his team told him that lab reports showed that this was not the case, and that OxyContin was safer as compared to all the other painkillers present on the market. Curtis Wright still did not agree, and we believed that there was somebody who still wanted to be dutiful and honest. Negotiations with Dr. Curtis went on for more than 20 months, and Richard Sackler could not believe that what he had believed would be a cakewalk had become the biggest obstacle in his journey.

Richard tried all sorts of tactics to appease Curtis Wright, but the man was not ready to sign the application and declare OxyContin a safe drug. Firstly, Purdue Pharma tried to pat his ego and make him believe that he was the most important man on the face of the earth. Back in the day, when video calls were not so common, Sackler’s team arranged for them just so that they could mesmerize Curtis and make him aware of the benefits he could avail himself of by siding with him. They also wanted to make a statement that even after having a turnover of billions, they were ready to give him all the time he needed and make sure that someone from the company was always available to answer his concerns. Any man would feel a bit overwhelmed by such gestures, and Curtis was no different. But the good thing was that he still held onto his beliefs. He was in no mood to cut Richard Sackler any slack. Days passed, and Richard did not like how the FDA had impeded their process, and he was adamant about trying something else because stroking Curtis’ ego had not taken them anywhere. They asked Curtis to come to a hotel and work from there with them so that they could resolve all the issues once and for all and move ahead with the application. Curtis found it a bit strange, as they were asking his permission to be a little informal and giving very strange signals.

After that three-day meeting in the hotel, all of a sudden, Dr. Curtis Wright changed his stance and approved Purdue Pharma’s application and put the FDA stamp on OxyContin. Soon after that, he was hired by Purdue Pharma and probably got a lot of other incentives as well. Nobody knew what happened in those days that made him believe that OxyContin was absolutely safe, but we know that with the barrier removed from his way, Richard Sackler now had the license to kill people under the pretense of helping their cause and delivering them from pain. Painkillers made us realize how gullible the common people are, who, after seeing the FDA mark, believe that they are consuming something that is absolutely safe, whereas there is no surety whatsoever about the quality of the product.

The last straw in the entire proceedings was the fall of Dr. Curtis Wright, and after that, messengers of death camouflaged as sales representatives reached the doctors and made sure that OxyContin was prescribed to every person struggling with pain. Those months of stalling and resilience shown by Curtis Wright were of no use, as finally, he gave in and proved that nothing could withstand the power of money. Curtis Wright was very particular about the fact that people should address him as a doctor, and he corrected them whenever people didn’t do that, but he disrespected that prefix in the worst possible manner. At that moment, Curtis Wright might have felt that he had won the game, but history is never kind to those who resort to dishonest means and play with the trust of the people. Curtis Wright will always be remembered as the guy who could have saved hundreds of lives but instead, let his selfish motives overpower his conscience.

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Sushrut Gopesh
Sushrut Gopesh
I came to Mumbai to bring characters to life. I like to dwell in the cinematic world and ponder over philosophical thoughts. I believe in the kind of cinema that not necessarily makes you laugh or cry but moves something inside you.

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