We at Recovery Boot Camp dig John Oliver and Last Week Tonight. Always have. Always will. So we especially dug Breaking Bad with Batman on Last Week Tonight. Okay, so that wasn't the episode's title. It doesn't even describe all that went on with the show. Let's just say it was classic Last Week Tonight.
Breaking Bad with Batman
Breaking Bad, natch, means Walter White. And Walter White, of course, means Bryan Cranston. Batman could mean a number of people. But in this case it meant Michael Keaton. That's right, both Cranston and Keaton joined John Oliver on Last Week Tonight. And neither actor could've been funnier.
There was nothing funny about their being on the show though. Not funny ha-ha anyway. There was though an element of funny peculiar. But that wasn't because of Cranston and Keaton. It was because of the material presented by Cranston and Keaton.
And boy was this some peculiar material. Specifically it was the words of Richard Sackler, former president of Purdue Pharma. Purdue, of course, is the maker of OxyContin, the drug most behind the opioid crisis. And Sackler was the man who spearheaded its widespread use.
There was the transcript of Sackler's video deposition from a Kentucky lawsuit. There was his speech bragging about OxyContin's hyper-rapid approval time. And there were the directives given to the sales staff. There was also Sackler's prognosis of the painkiller's immense popularity, as well as his callous disregard for those who died as a result, and who effectively put even more billions into the pockets of him and his family.
OxyContin will produce "a blizzard of prescriptions that will bury the competition," wrote Sackler. And blizzard of prescriptions it did launch. Why? Because Purdue Pharma marketed OxyContin as a safer and less addictive pain pill. And because Purdue's marketing tactics were about as cut-throat as any Mad Man could devise.
This being TV, the Mad Men analogy is more than apropos. So was Oliver's decision to use actors to read the words of Richard Sackler. (Sackler apparently wasn't available.)
First came Keaton, who read drug king Richard's response to an early-epidemic news article claiming OxyContin caused 59 deaths in a single state.
"That's not too bad," said Batman, clearly mimicking Richard Sackler's original menace. "It could've been far worse."
So could Sackler's own words, which, when widespread OxyContin addiction was becoming more and more evident, did indeed get far worse.
"We've got to hammer on the abusers in every way possible," wrote Sackler in a company email. "They are the culprits and the problem. They are reckless criminals."
Cranston followed Keaton, and he, in turn was followed by none other than Michael K. Williams, who channeled his iconic Omar from The Wire. Then came a surprise guest with a flurry of Sackler's "I don't know"s. (Watch the full show below.)
Last Week Tonight Goes After the Bad Guys
Purdue Pharma and the Sackler Family weren't the only bad guys targeted by Last Week Tonight. John Oliver also laid into drug maker Insys (for an egregiously lame rap video promoting fentanyl) and drug distributor McKesson (for delivering 5 million doses of OxyContin to a town of 400 people). The DEA had cited McKesson back in 2008 for failing to control its controlled substances, and McKesson, in turn, agreed to pay a $13.5 million fine (albeit without admitting any wrongdoing). McKesson also pledged to implement stricter controls of its controlled substance distribution system. But, as John Oliver pointed out, "that program emphatically did not work." In fact, a DEA agent said McKesson's bad acts not only continued, but they escalated to a previously unseen level of egregiousness.
Of course they did, deadpanned Oliver. You can't put McKesson in charge of monitoring McKesson.
Apparently, you can't stop McKesson by fining them either. Because in 2017 the drug giant agreed to pay another fine. This time $150 million. That's right. McKesson was fined over 10 times the amount it was hit with just nine years before. Which, as Oliver pointed out, sounds like a lot until you realize that amount was just 1/1000th of the company's revenue for the entire year.
This was John Oliver's second time covering the opioid epidemic for Last Week Tonight. And a much-needed second covering it was. We at Recovery Boot Camp applaud Oliver, his show and everyone at HBO for so diligently covering the crisis. We'd also like to add a very special thanks to Walter White, Batman and Omar for giving Richard Sackler the menace he surely deserves.