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Pain Hustlers: A Dive into The True Story and Its Real-Life Counterparts

Updated: Mar 4

The character Jack Neel, Liza and Pete from Pain Hustlers
Pain Hustlers 2023

The movie "Pain Hustlers" draws its inspiration from a true story that revolves around the activities of a company named Insys. In particular, the film is rooted in a 2018 investigative article by Evan Hughes for the New York Times Magazine. This article unraveled the workings of Insys, a company founded by billionaire John Kapoor.

The Company and the Opioid Drug

Insys marketed an opioid product called Subsys, initially meant for treating "breakthrough" cancer pain. What makes this story intriguing is that Subsys was essentially derived from a generic drug. However, Insys transformed it into a premium product by adding a spray delivery system. In the movie, this opioid drug is referred to as Lonafin, and the company is named Zanna.

The "Speaker Program" and Kapoor's Involvement

John Kapoor's success was closely tied to what was known as a "speaker program". The "Speaker Program," a central element in "Pain Hustlers," played a pivotal role in the film's narrative and closely mirrors the real-life practices of pharmaceutical companies like Insys. This program was a manipulative marketing strategy employed by Insys to push its potent painkiller, analogous to Subsys in real life. Under the program, financial incentives were offered to doctors and clinicians in exchange for prescribing the opioid drug, emphasizing sales over patient welfare. This scheme, vividly depicted in the movie for dramatic effect, was based on actual tactics used by pharmaceutical companies. Many of the programs within the "Speaker Program" were fraudulent, lacking genuine educational value and serving as a guise for bribes. "Pain Hustlers" portrays the ethical dilemmas faced by healthcare professionals who were lured by financial rewards. In real life, those involved faced criminal accountability, shedding light on the importance of ethics and responsibility in the pharmaceutical industry.

Kapoor's Legal Consequences

In 2020, Kapoor was sentenced to prison for his involvement in bribing medical practitioners and participating in a "racketeering conspiracy." As a result, he received a 66-month prison term.

From Real Story to Fictional Narrative

The story originally presented by Evan Hughes had all the elements of a captivating rags-to-riches narrative. The word "outrageous" was used to describe both the real story and the film adaptation. It was characterized by its wild, larger-than-life, chaotic, and even comical aspects. However, it's essential to acknowledge that these events also carried a sense of moral outrage due to the harm inflicted on patients.

Adaptation into a Book and Movie

Evan Hughes later turned his article into a book titled Pain Hustlers-crime and Punishment at an opioid start-up This gripping account of corruption within the pharmaceutical industry piqued the interest of director David Yates. He transformed it into a fictional narrative, with documentary-style elements, blurring the lines between fact and fiction even further.

So, "Pain Hustlers" is a cinematic journey that takes inspiration from a true story of pharmaceutical industry corruption, revealing the dark side of a seemingly successful company. The movie serves as a powerful reminder of the real-life consequences of such actions.

Movie Characters and Real-Life Counterparts

Jack Neel (Portrayed by Andy Garcia): Jack Neel is a central character in the film. He represents the fictional version of real-life billionaire John Kapoor, the founder of the pharmaceutical company Insys. Kapoor was sentenced to five-and-a-half years in prison for orchestrating a scheme to bribe doctors to prescribe a potent painkiller. He and other Insys executives were convicted on charges, including racketeering conspiracy.

Liza Drake (Portrayed by Emily Blunt): Liza Drake is a character created for the film, "Pain Hustlers." She embodies various perspectives found in the real-life article, symbolizing individuals who joined Insys' sales force. These young people, including Liza, are driven by a strong desire for success, but as the story unfolds, they become entangled with a dubious corporation that manipulates people for sales.

Pete Brenner (Portrayed by Chris Evans): Pete Brenner is another character in the movie and shares a strong resemblance to Alec Burlakoff, a key figure in Evan Hughes' article. Alec Burlakoff, in real life, received a prison sentence for his role in a racketeering conspiracy connected to the promotion of Subsys, an opioid medication. In the film, Pete encounters Liza at a strip club where she faces the risk of losing her job, reflecting the reference to Insys hiring a "former exotic dancer" mentioned in Hughes' article. Alec Burlakoff was convicted and received a 26-month prison sentence for his role in the racketeering conspiracy related to the promotion of Subsys. He cooperated with the government and provided crucial insights into the methods used by Insys to incentivize doctors to prescribe Subsys.

Doctor Nathan Lydill (Portrayed by Brian D’arcy James): Dr. Nathan Lydill is a key character in the story, symbolizing the medical practitioners who were persuaded to prescribe opioid medications to patients, often unnecessarily. He represents a collective portrayal of doctors involved in this scandal.

Lonafin (Opioid Drug in the Movie): Lonafin is the fictional name given to the opioid product marketed by Zanna, the pharmaceutical company in the film. It corresponds to Subsys, the actual product marketed by Insys in real life.

Lessons from "Pain Hustlers"

  • Careful Career Choices: "Pain Hustlers" portrays characters who, driven by a desire for success, ultimately find themselves working for a corrupt corporation. This emphasizes the importance of making career choices aligned with your values and ethical standards. It prompts you to consider the ethical implications of your professional decisions, ensuring they resonate with your principles and ideals, rather than being solely driven by financial success.

  • Understanding Corporate Manipulation: "Pain Hustlers" unveils the intricate web of corporate manipulation, deceit, and corruption. By watching this film, you can gain a deeper understanding of the tactics corporations employ to further their interests, even at the expense of public well-being. This knowledge empowers you to be a more informed consumer, recognize potential manipulations in various contexts, and make wiser decisions.

  • Recognizing the Opioid Crisis: The movie underscores the devastating real-life consequences of the opioid crisis. It serves as a reminder that your actions, whether as a medical practitioner, pharmaceutical executive, or policymaker, can significantly impact public health. You can gain insights into the importance of responsible practices and how one person's choices can affect society on a larger scale.

  • Promoting Ethical Practices: "Pain Hustlers" exposes the dire need for ethics and accountability in the corporate world. It reminds you that ethical business practices should always be a priority. By drawing from the movie, you can appreciate the value of integrity in business and champion ethical practices in your professional life.

  • Building Awareness: The film encourages you to be aware of societal issues and the role corporations play in them. Understanding these dynamics empowers you to engage in informed discussions and support initiatives that address such challenges. By staying informed and getting involved, you contribute to shaping a more equitable and ethical society.

  • Championing Accountability: "Pain Hustlers" highlights the importance of holding corporations and individuals accountable for their actions. This is a call to action, urging you to advocate for accountability, transparency, and justice in your community and beyond. Your efforts can help prevent similar corporate wrongdoings and ensure that justice prevails.

  • Striving for Change: Inspired by the characters in the film who challenge the corrupt system, you can learn that change is possible when individuals stand up for what is right. This motivates you to be proactive in seeking change when you encounter unethical practices. Your actions can contribute to a more just and equitable world.


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