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SXSW Review: “The Oxy Kingpins” Reveals the True Villains of the Opioid Crisis

Written by: Matt Patti | March 23rd, 2021

Director Brendan Fitzgerald of THE OXY KINGPIS

The Oxy Kingpins (Nick August-Perna/Brendan Fitzgerald, 2021) 3 out of 4 stars.

The opioid crisis that plagues the U.S. today can be attributed to many factors. There’s the unfortunate horrors of addiction, the drug dealers that make millions, and even some dirty doctors and pharmacists who get in on the cash cow that is OxyContin. However, the ones that rarely get blamed are those that actually make the substance: the pharmaceutical companies. These industry giants are not only Fortune 500 companies, but the big 3 – McKesson, Cardinal, and AmeriSourceBergen – are currently listed within the top 16 companies in the United States. In the documentary The Oxy Kingpins, the OxyContin phenomenon is explored in detail and a case is made that these companies, not the street-level drug dealers, are the true culprits of the problem.

The documentary is highly detailed and outlines the way in which Oxy is distributed illegally. Using interviews with those who have first-hand experience in the trade, including drug dealers (some concealed for their protection), the film explains how easy it is to make money selling the drug illegally. We see the whole process of how it is distributed with an in-depth, personal view of one drug dealer’s methods of sales. This whole revelation is enlightening and surprising, as well, given the simplicity and ease with which these drugs can be sold underground. The film then shifts a bit as we transition into a law firm that is trying to take down those they believe are responsible for the OxyContin problem in America, the pharmaceutical companies. The viewer learns intriguing terms and details about medicine and drug distribution and also gets briefed on a few key laws that the lawyers claim these big companies break. All of this information is made accessible through specific definitions and illustrative visual representations.

Still from THE OXY KINGPINS ©Nick August-Perna/Brendan Fitzgerald

The film takes a deep dive into the potential motives of pharmaceutical companies, and illuminates discoveries that have been found in emails and communications within those companies that suggest they do not take the opioid crisis seriously. The interviews featured in the movie come from all directions and angles: they show the perspectives of former dealers, distributors, customers, lawyers with personal vendettas, and more. Interestingly enough, however, they do not feature much input from representatives of the pharmaceutical companies, only showing footage from court hearings. I believe their input could have been vital to include, but I could see how they might not have wanted to participate in a documentary that was explicitly calling them out.

The Oxy Kingpins does tend to hop around from topic to topic, leaving some issues to return to later and others that we never see brought up again. As a result, the message is sometimes a bit inconsistent. There is also no real resolution or outlook for the future that is touched upon, which is a bit of a letdown, but a reminder of the harsh reality of this crisis. However, The Oxy Kingpins still delivers a fascinating look into the world of OxyContin drug trade: how it works, who the key players are, who it affects, and who is responsible. I believe the directors of this film, Nick August-Perna and Brendan Fitzgerald, have a clear agenda in making this documentary, but a thought-provoking one, and they fulfill theirs vision. I think the film will open many viewer’s eyes and make them see this tragic issue from a different lens, and begin to ask their own questions and make their own conclusions about who should be held accountable.


Matt Patti has enjoyed voicing his opinions on films from a young age. He has lived in the Baltimore, Maryland, area since 2015 and is a graduate of Stevenson University’s Film & Moving Image program. Matt is currently back at Stevenson University, working as the School of Design, Arts, and Communication's Studio Manager.

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