Review: ‘Prescription Thugs’ points finger at Big Pharma for increasing drug abuse


The documentary “Prescription Thugs” ponders the cultural forces feeding the habit of prescription drug abuse, a phenomenon of increasing concern in Middle America where painkillers and psych meds have served as gateways to illicit substances.

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The film boasts damning facts and figures against Big Pharma, such as its formidable lobby lavishing on average $422,000 per member of Congress in 2013 alone. Gwen Olsen, a former pharmaceutical rep, says Big Pharma is in the business of disease management and symptom maintenance rather than health and healing. Richard Taite, founder and chief executive of Cliffside Malibu, claims that Big Pharma profits from keeping people sick.


Filmmaker Chris Bell revisits and expands on some of the topics that came up in “Bigger, Stronger, Faster*,” his 2008 documentary that explored widespread steroid use by his all-American jock brothers and among professional athletes under pressure to achieve the American Dream through elite performance.

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Once again, he peppers the personal narrative with research and interviews. Often seen in an Under Armour crew neck, cargo shorts and a ball cap turned backward, the plainspoken Bell warmly introduces each interviewee as his friend. Despite his casual aura, the filmmaker is eloquent and thoughtful. He argues that Big Pharma merely services consumer demand for quick fixes with “magic” pills, bringing his cautionary tale full circle.

“Prescription Thugs”

MPAA rating: none

Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes

Playing: Laemmle Royal, West Los Angeles. Also on VOD