It is the business of the century that the bustling documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney scrutinizes in his latest work "The Crime of the Century": the trade in legal, highly addictive narcotics, which is operated in America by a network of political, private, medical and of entrepreneurial profiteers and has killed half a million Americans in the past two decades.

Gibney is a star of the documentary scene: in 2005, he exposed the dubious machinations of the eponymous energy giant in “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room”. His film "Taxi to the Dark Side" about the US torture policy in Afghanistan after September 11, 2001 received the 2007 Oscar for best documentary. In “We Steal Secrets” in 2013 he took a look behind the scenes at WikiLeaks, and in 2019 with “The Inventor” he documented the cultic adoration of the supposedly ingenious young entrepreneur Elizabeth Holmes in Silicon Valley, whose revolutionary blood tests did not even exist.

Gibney illustrates previously published journalistic research, and in this case too he relies on the findings of the Washington Post journalist Patrick Radden Keefe, which he published in the New Yorker in 2017 and now in his book "Empire of Pain", as well as on the research by Pulitzer Prize winner Barry Meier, who had his 2003 book "Pain Killer" followed by a new edition of the same name fifteen years later.

Through opioid trade to the billion-dollar empire

According to Gibney, he worked for two years on the documentation, which is long-winded in places and recounts with a not always constant rhythm how the brothers Arthur, Raymond and Mortimer Sackler, children of Eastern European immigrants from humble backgrounds, become doctors, buy a medical advertising service and use the dubious one Marketing pain relievers create a fortune. In addition to his advertising business with the Medical Tribune, Arthur Sackler also owned a medical journal, and when he and his brothers bought a medical patenting company called Purdue Frederick in 1952, the foundation stone was laid for a family business that developed and marketed drugs with expert advice and far-reaching political influence Association. The next Sackler generation, especially Raymond's son Richard,created an empire of billions with the help of the drug Oxycontin (originally oxycodone, an opioid, developed by Martin Freund and Edmund Speyer in Frankfurt in 1916) and a successful campaign to expand the treatment of painkillers with opiates.

The addictive potential of Oxycontin, which came on the market in 1996, steadily increased the demand. The more you gave patients, the more they needed. Such a strong and addictive drug, wrote Keefe in the New Yorker, should actually have been restricted to a minimal dosage and a select group of patients. But since that ran counter to the profitability of the pharmaceutical company, Purdue did the opposite. Soon doses between ten and 160 milligrams were on the market. The drug makes you dependent "only extremely rarely if it is used legitimately," says the approval that Purdue worked out together with the responsible official at the FDA. You shouldn't criminalize people who are in pain, says the doctor Lynn Webster,whose statements are shown in reverse with the story of the severely addictive Carol Rosley. Webster has internalized the mantra of the opiate trade. Even after she was withdrawn, he continued to prescribe opiates for the patient until she died of an overdose.