Crime of the Century: Addiction Is Not That Simple

HBO Max’s new documentary, Crime of the Century—for which I was interviewed and about which I have written—promulgates the viewpoint that using opioids inevitably leads to addiction.

That is a breathtakingly false and damaging conclusion to portray.

Documentary Propagates Misinformation

Crime of the Century had the opportunity to debunk myths about addiction. Instead, it confuses the terms addiction and physical dependence and propagates misinformation. To make matters worse, the documentary was based in part on reporting from The Washington Post. The newspaper’s stature lends authority and credibility to a project that it does not deserve.

The documentary overlooks the critical issues that cause addiction while it captivates and misleads viewers with a fable of greed, villains, and heroes. In short, the documentary only succeeds in generating heat rather than shedding light on the deeply misunderstood, alarmingly widespread problem of addiction in America.

What we know about addiction to opioids is that it is 50-60 percent genetically determined. The remaining 40-50 percent is environmental. Noted psychologist Bruce Alexander has shown that addiction “emerges universally as a response to the disruption of normal social interactions.” Of course, social disruption does not create addictions universally.  However, we have seen a surge in opioid addictions during the pandemic which supports the concept that isolation and lack of social connection fuel addictions.

In fact, a growing body of science suggests that when negative forces are present in a person’s life, drugs such as opioids become a means of eluding life’s painful memories. This helps explain why most addictions develop in people who have emotional pain from which they want to escape.

America’s Opioid Addiction Problem

Crime of the Century leads viewers to believe that America’s opioid addiction problem is due to unscrupulous corporations and providers. Certainly, aggressive marketing and pill mills provided a sea of drugs that led to destruction and death. But for the majority of people prescribed opioids, the risk of developing an addiction or overdosing is far less than the documentary would lead us to believe.

The story the documentary tells about overdose deaths caused by corporate greed has some basis in truth. But there is a greater truth: people in pain are repeatedly victimized by a system that is supposed to help them. Yet one story becomes the basis for policy while the other assumes a burden of proof.

The documentary argues that an excessive supply of opioids fueled the opioid crisis. However, there was a 40 percent decline in opioid prescriptions from 2012-2019. During the same time, there was an approximately 138 percent increase in overdose deaths. If the opioid crisis were due to the volume of opioids prescribed, we would expect the number of people becoming addicted or overdosing to have decreased when the number of prescriptions plummeted. However, the opposite occurred.

Most people who become addicted to opioids begin using other drugs in adolescence for social and environmental reasons. Childhood trauma, anxiety, and social isolation are far greater determinants of who develops an addiction than simple exposure to opioids.

Addiction happens because of an interaction between neurobiological and social-environmental conditions. Exposure to an opioid alone is insufficient for the disorder to develop. Addiction is not resident in a drug, but rather in individuals.

The solution to reducing addiction is to improve socio-environmental conditions and provide a non-punitive response to drug use. If this happens, people will not seek opioids, regardless of how much inappropriate marketing there is.

The Crime of the Century documentary is the 21st century equivalent of a witch trial. Rather than examining the real roots to the opioid crisis, it stirs up outrage while focusing on corporate misbehavior—a focus that, while partially true, does little to address the dilemma. Worse, it provides misinformation that actively exacerbates this national tragedy.

Lynn R. Webster, MD consults with the pharmaceutical industry. He is author of the award-winning book, The Painful Truth,” and co-producer of the documentary,It Hurts Until You Die.”  You can find him on Twitter: @LynnRWebsterMD.



  1. Connie Martin on June 6, 2021 at 8:32 pm

    It is these idiotic documentaries, salacious news stories, special reports, and more put out by the media, that just continues to put the burden of Opioid overdoses on the pill manufacturers, doctors, pharmacies, and worst yet, all of the legitimate Chronic Pain Patients! I am not so naive as to not recognize that there have been pill mills resulting from greedy doctors and pharmacies, but I would presume the CDC’s and DEA’s actions have now closed most of these places down. There has also been more than sufficient time now for the CDC and others who are keeping track of such data, to recognize that the legitimate prescribing of opioid medications for legitimate Chronic Pain Patients, has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with opioid overdoses! In light of this five or more years worth of in-depth research and data, which also unfortunately also shows a marked increase in suicides by Chronic Pain Patients, (who could not live with the unrelenting pain caused by a severe cut-back, or removal entirely from access to their opioid medications) one would think that the CDC would finally, rethink their original well-intended, but horribly misguided presumptions about this issue and stop all of this insanity by now! But of course, not. Welcome to government-controlled mandates telling all American citizens what we can and cannot do with our own bodies! This government intrusion is not limited to just women and should have everyone concerned! Not just the Chronic Pain Patients, but about the government making mandates about what each of us can or cannot put in our bodies – even if there is a potential for an adverse effect. This is a very slippery slope, my friends. Fortunately, I have been one of the ‘lucky ones’ who has a caring, understanding, and well-educated pain management physician, who has refused to alter my pain meds from the pre-CDC pain medication dictate by the CDC. In spite of having a good doctor, I still have had to do my own several battles at pharmacies that REFUSED to fill my RX orders ‘as directed’ by my doctor, instead, telling me what amounts and strengths of my opioid medications THEY would allow me to take?! REALLY! This is how far this insanity has gone! I refused to accept this ridiculous dictate (which lowered my slow-acting meds to 1/3 of the regular amount and cutting the strength of my long-acting pain meds in half! I should note that I have been on the SAME meds, at the SAME strengths, and SAME daily amounts now for 29 years. So, in response to the Pharmacy Nazis, I went above the local pharmacies to contact the corporate pharmacy departments with my complaints, most of which resulted in just more ‘closed ears,’ spewing the same rhetoric, resulting in no change whatsoever. So, I checked out online pharmacies, mail-order pharmacies, and also called around to many other pharmacies in my area to see if just one of them would fill my refills ‘as written’ giving them the name, strength, and monthly amount I would be filling. I found one! I then transferred all of my medications to them and it’s been absolutely great working with them ever since. Before the pharmacy change, I did have to go four (4) months at one time without my long-acting opioid medication at all, due entirely to the refusal to fill ‘as directed’ with the original pharmacy. I did NOT go to the streets, ask family or friends, start using heroin, or use any other methods to acquire any pain medications, although I NEEDED THEM FOR MY PAIN LEVELS. I did not go through any withdrawal symptoms at all and just suffered greatly increased pain levels due to not having the combination of both long and short-acting opioid medications. Chronic Pain Patients are not usually addicted. So, in spite of my own personal situation, I have and will continue to speak out on this subject any time and place that I have the opportunity to do so – just for my brothers and sisters unfortunate enough to be fellow Chronic Pain Patients, who aren’t as lucky as I have been. I write politicians, try to attend conferences and seminars on the subject, and basically anything I can do to lend a voice for the millions and millions of silent Chronic Pain Patients. I pray each day that the CDC/DEA will finally drop this absolute insanity, but instead, it would seem that they are not only leaving their severe opioid measures in place ‘as is,’ but now will soon be going after Benzodiazepines as well! These would be primarily anti-anxiety medications, like Xanax, Valium, Ativan, Klonipin, and others. Have no doubt. This fight will be the same or worse – but fight I will!

  2. Gigi on June 11, 2021 at 11:59 am

    Agree with all of this.

    Point to be made: Alex Bigney, who made the Crime of thr Century film had made a film about CONSERVATORSHIP ABUSE prior and got sued because he exposes the lawyers, doctors, judges etc that take advantage of the elderly and other folks.

    He got sued, then made a satirical film named “I Care A Lot” allegedly as part of a lawsuit settlement and now he has jumped on the “attack the sacklers” train (they own purdue pharma and started valium, ms contin, and duh duh duh oxy contin)

    Because the Sackler’s and Purdue have already been sued and lost, Alex Bigney doesn’t face the same legal liability as he did with the Conservatorship/Guardianship abuse documentary so that’s most likely why he switched to that topic.

    This whole thing is out of control. Narcotic pain med scripts are actually down closer to 70% since 2011. The rescheduling of all hydrocodone products (lortab, vicodin, norco) in 2014 resulted in a HUGE SPIKE IN ODs even more than the reformulation of Oxycontin in 2010’ish.

    Its been 5 years, and the government is still wrongly attacking patients: that’s what this is: an attack on patients.

    Average life expectancy has gone down in the United States not because of overdoses but because of the LACK OF AND UNNECESSARY CUTBACK OF VITAL MEDICINES such as narcotic pain relievers.

    Mother nature created the opium poppy just as she created that cannabis weed plant.

    But nope DEA cant allow some people to use either/or. They make money cheating, lying, and scamming professional doctors etc.

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