Dopesick: The Opioid Crisis Beyond the Script

KFF’s Kaiser Health News and Hulu hosted a panel discussion in October about Hulu’s miniseries “Dopesick.”

The event brought together the lead creative powers behind the show along with a journalist from KHN and a policy expert from KFF to unpack the making of “Dopesick” and what the show has to say about the origins of the opioid crisis. KFF’s journalists and policy experts have been tracking the devastating epidemic with on-the-ground stories as well as data-driven analyses for a number of years. The panelists brought their different lenses — creative, journalistic and policy — to focus on the devastating impact of opioids on ordinary Americans and the often ineffective efforts to combat this continuing public health emergency.

The panel discussion, moderated by Chaseedaw Giles, KHN’s digital strategy and audience engagement editor, featured executive producer, writer and showrunner Danny Strong; journalist Beth Macy, who authored the book on which the show is based; KHN correspondent Aneri Pattani, who has reported extensively on opioid policy, substance use and mental health; and KFF senior policy analyst Nirmita Panchal, whose analytical work focuses on mental health and substance use.

Topics explored included:

  • How the show employed the tools of fiction, such as composite characters, to tell a larger truth
  • The important role played by medication-assisted treatment, which combines medications with counseling and behavioral therapy in the treatment of opioid addiction
  • The current state of the opioid crisis, marked by a record-high 93,000 deaths from drug overdoses in 2020; the expansion of the problem beyond largely rural, white communities; and the rise of highly addictive synthetic opioids like fentanyl
  • The role of politics in the funding for, and availability of, different types of treatment

Dopesick ” premiered on Hulu Oct. 13, with new installments of the miniseries available on Hulu every Wednesday. The panel discussion was recorded in KFF’s Washington, D.C., offices without a live audience due to COVID-19.


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