Monday, November 30, 2020

Deadlier Than Covid, A Film Proposal

Annamaria on Monday

I have long-since been done with repetitive, predictable movies where the bad guys are drug lords who look like this:

The drug lords in my movie will look more like this:

Images: Shutterstock

And they work not in places that look like this:

But more like this:

So what's my story?

Opening Scene: Set in a leafy suburb inhabited by the wealthy and ultra wealthy.  A well-to-do couple, elegant pillars of the community, meet with their pastor in the manse of the local Episcopal church, alternately raging and weeping over the recent death of their only child.  Just 24, their carefully nurtured and beautifully educated son was a sweet boy, always perfectly well-behaved, never in any trouble until, just after college graduation, he became addicted to drugs in the aftermath of dental surgery for impacted wisdom teeth.  His parents had tried all the best addiction therapy that money could buy.  Nothing worked.  And now their Harry is gone forever.

Desperate to soothe them, their pastor suggests that they direct their grief toward finding justice for the many who have died in similar circumstances and finding better cures for those who live with chronic, debilitating opioid addiction.  Given the number of extremely well-connected lawyers and political figures in their circle of acquaintance, they begin to collect first-hand knowledge of efforts to deal with the nation-wide crisis. This film follows their findings.

Plot Summary:

The characters in the drama begin with the attorney general of the state where Harry grew up and the AG's team of detectives, and also investigative reporting teams working for the New York Times and the Boston Globe. While nationwide, more and more investigations yield a trend of vast proportions, this story focuses on one reporter - Lily Miranda and one investigator - James Joffre, who are determined to follow the money.

Meanwhile, in the boardroom of the largest opioid producer, the world's most prestigious consulting firm recommends to the company owners ways to "turbocharge" sales.  

Eventually, as public interest in the tragic consequences begins to mount, it becomes clear that doctors are over-prescribing the drugs.  That means that major pharmaceutical retailers might be at risk of law suits.

Joffre and Miranda dig up information on that very manufacturer, a family renowned for their generous donations to arts institutions, some of which bear their name.

In the consulting company's headquarters in a series of one-to-one meetings, consultants consider the best strategy for dealing with the bad opioid publicity. They never give serious consideration to slowing the addiction and death rate by making known the dangers and reducing sales and profits.  Instead, to make sure their client's profits remain high, the consultants develop an incentive program to allow retailers to keep up their sales, despite the risks. One member of the consulting team is appalled by the immorality of the strategy and secretly decides to blow the whistle.

Back in their client's boardroom, the consultants use a glib, impressive series of data images to present their recommendation.  To preserve their profitability, the manufacturer can "protect" the retailers from losses. They have calculated how much to offer the retailers as protection money. Their formula involves estimating the cost of risk insurance, probable number of lawsuits agains the retailer, likelihood of lawsuit settlement costs, and concomitant retailer legal expenses.  The consultants propose that the manufacturer pay retailers a rebate of $14,810 for each of their customers who dies of an overdose.  

The ex-employee of consulting company approaches Joffre and Miranda and reveals his former bosses' role in ramping up sales  through "turbocharging" and the hideous calculation of the cost per overdose.

With attorney generals all over the USA up in arms and the legal writing on the wall, the manufacturer follows the advice of their attorneys and the corporation pleads guilty and "deeply regrets and accepts responsibility" for its misconduct.

Though I have, as I said at the outset here, long-since sworn off watching movies about drug lords,  I would watch a movie about this story.  It would begin, as so many films do, with the words "Based on a True Story."  Here is that true story, written by Walt Bogdanich and Michael Forsythe in the New York Times.   Just in case you don't read the whole Times article, I want to make sure you see this, from the 27 November 2020 edition:

"This is the banality of evil, M.B.A. edition,” Anand Giridharadas, 

a former McKinsey consultant who reviewed the documents,

 said of the firm’s work with Purdue. “They knew what was going on.

 And they found a way to look past it, through it, around it, so as to answer

 the only questions they cared about: how to make the client money and,

 when the walls closed in, how to protect themselves.”

Total dead as of today:




  1. Wow, those are some sobering statistics. (Oh, and I'd watch that movie, too, Annamaria!)

    1. Having spent a major part of my adult life in the corporate world, I too find the statistics very sobering, but the behaviors not surprising. There aren't a lot a movies ever made on the wages of corporate sin. I guess that may be because making movies is a corporate endeavor.

  2. Two thoughts. The film will play and be followed by many sequels...I'm sad to say.

    Second thought...Why did you use a photo of a bare-chested Tim Hallinan for your drug lord?

    1. I'm not quite sure what Kwei is laughing at. Okay, so my biceps can use a little work.

    2. Tim, I think Kwei is just humoring Jeff. You know how Jeff gets all bent out of shape if we don’t laugh at what he imagines is funny.

  3. Gee, Bro, I am surprised you knew it was Tim. I thought photoshopping in the gold necklace would be enough of a disguise. Our Tim would never wear such a thing!

    1. On a more serious note, these opioid drug companies are simply ruthless. I remember the days when drug reps swarmed our clinics every Tuesday trying to convince us to prescribe their drugs. Oh, nooooo, Oxycontin could NEVER cause addiction. It's the safest thing around. Right. Sure.

    2. Kwei, I had several pharmaceutical companies as clients years ago. I know their marketing habits changed when they were allowed to advertise. It was a mistake to change the rules and allow them to do so.

  4. Very sad, with the all the recent politicking we sometimes forget that politics is ultimately about people. We (and by extension our elected officials) have been hands-off for too long--pharmaceutical companies, Boeing (737-Max), abandoning the Fairness Doctrine in broadcasting, the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling spring to the top of my mind. Your note about advertising changing the game is spot on.

    1. As far as I can see, Jamie, the path to the problems you so insightfully list here began in 1980. Before then, we had failsafe systems put in place to deal with corporate overreach. I vividly remember a lunch with a client, a top exec in a chemical/pharmaceutical company. It was in the mid-80s. He was rejoicing over what was going on in Washington. No economist I, even to a person like me, it was easy to see where the administration and the congress were taking the country. I objected (politely since he was client. "But that will widen the gap between the rich and the poor." He looked at me with glee and said with complete self-satisfaction, "I cannot wait!"

      I stopped working with the company. As I watched our country march toward today, I have often been overwhelmed by this question: If a relatively uninformed person like me could see so clearly the result of those changes, why weren't the people governing the country seeing the dire consequences and trying to avoid at least the worst of them.

      The bright spot for me at this moment can be expressed in two words: Janet Yellen!