‘Crime of the Century’: Alex Gibney Documents the Opioid Crisis for HBO

Gibney most recently worked with HBO on the serial killer series "Crazy, Not Insane."
Alex Gibney
Alex GIbney

Director Alex Gibney is on a roll. Fresh off his documentary on COVID-19, “Totally Under Control,” HBO is announcing the director is set to tackle the opioid crisis in “The Crime of the Century.”

The two-part documentary is described by HBO as a “searing indictment of Big Pharma and the political operatives and government regulations that enable overproduction, reckless distribution and abuse of synthetic opiates.” The documentary will examine the origins, expansion, and ultimate fallout of what is now considered one of the most deadly drugs out there.

Per HBO, the documentary will include interviews with whistleblowers and insiders, as well as include newly-leaked documents and behind-the-scenes footage. The goal for Gibney and crew is to emphasize how drug companies are profiting off the crisis they’ve created.

Gibney is one of the most prolific documentarians working today, with his work covering important topics from COVID to Scientology, as well as the Elizabeth Holmes scandal. His documentary “Totally Under Control” failed to make the shortlist for this year’s Best Documentary Feature at the Oscars but still gave audiences an extremely valuable glimpse into the pandemic, and the role of former President Donald J. Trump.

It took two years to make the project, from start to finish, according to Gibney during a Wednesday HBO virtual panel at the CTAM 2021 Winter Press Tour. “There are very real similarities [between opioids and the tobacco industry,” Gibney said. The big difference, according to investigative reporter Scott Higham, is the fatality level of opioids versus cigarettes. “Tobacco never pretended that they were selling medicine,” said Dr. Anna Lembke.

“We’ve defined the opioid epidemic as an opioid crisis, like it’s a wildfire,” Gibney said. “It actually wasn’t a crisis at all, it was a crime and the body count was extremely high.” The title of “crime of the century” implies there’s a shocking intentionality to everything. There will be strong, never-before-seen evidence of how the crime was committed. “It’s important to note it’s a series of interlocking crimes,” Gibney said, starting with the excesses of capitalism.

In talking about the crime Gibney hopes to celebrate the heroes, like the medical doctors and investigative reporters trying to deliver truth. “That documentaries like this can be made…is that the pursuit of truth is still alive in our country,” Lembke said. She’s optimistic that treatments and intervention techniques have evolved to end this in the coming decades.

In a recent interview on the documentary Gibney said: ““It was hard to watch [U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex] Azar and [CDC director Robert] Redfield and others complicit in the corruption of science. The whole government had been corrupted. That’s the underlying theme here. These people don’t believe in government. Donald Trump is a human wrecking ball who was sent by the people to tear it all down, and that’s what he’s done: torn down the reputation of the CDC, which was regarded as the gold standard…The federal government was the ultimate piggy bank for private enterprise to make money in the middle of a pandemic. It’s shocking.”

He’d most recently worked with HBO on the serial killer series “Crazy, Not Insane” which profiled Dorothy Otnow Lewis, a veteran psychiatrist who has studied various infamous murderers. Her research includes videotaped death row interviews and examines the formative experiences and neurological dysfunction of such infamous murderers as Arthur Shawcross and Ted Bundy. Her work challenges the very notion of evil, proposing that murderers are made, not born.

“The Crime of the Century” debuts on HBO and HBO Max this May.

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