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John Oliver Revisits the Opioid Crisis on Last Week Tonight, This Time With Some Celebrity Help

3 minute read

Back in 2016, John Oliver dedicated an episode of Last Week Tonight to America’s growing opioid crisis. The painkiller epidemic has not improved, with some 47,000 people dying of opioid overdoses in 2017, so Oliver has decided to revisit the topic in light of new information coming out of the numerous court cases that have been filed against the companies that either make or distribute the drugs. This time, though, he brought a few friends along—such as Walter White, Omar, and Batman.

According to Oliver, to understand the scope of the problem, look no further than Kermit, West Virginia. The town’s now-closed pharmacy featured recently in a congressional report because in 2007 it received an average of 9,650 hydrocodone pills a day from wholesale drug company McKesson Corp., even though Kermit only has a population of 400.

In the latest Last Week Tonight, Oliver argues that that the massive fines levied against the drug companies for failing to monitor opioids properly have simply become “the cost of doing business,” given that the companies continue to make profits.

One of the biggest manufacturers of opioids is Purdue, the creators of the powerful painkiller OxyContin. Purdue is owned by the Sackler family and was run by Richard Sackler, its former president, who has come out strongly against people misusing OxyContin, which Oliver finds ironic.

”He is furious at the people who are part of the problem, but the people he’s angry at helped make him incredibly rich,” Oliver says. “You don’t see Adam Levine making a song condemning horny middle aged women because that would make him hypocritical.”

While the Sacklers and Purdue say they are not the cause of the opioid epidemic, they have settled numerous legal cases with communities and states.

To shine a spotlight on Purdue, the show decided to have Richard Sackler’s video deposition in one case read out word for word. However, because listening to people read court documents can be dull, Oliver decided to conscript four actors to play Sackler and read the transcript of the video deposition. There’s Batman’s Michael Keaton, and Bryan Cranston, who channeled his Breaking Bad character, the noted drug dealer Walter White.

Because Last Week Tonight is on HBO, Oliver also decided to tap into his network’s network and brought in Michael K. Williams to read Sackler’s lines in the spirit of his character Omar from The Wire. Finally, he brought in Mad About You and Spin City star Richard Kind to recreate many of the times that Sackler said the phrase “I don’t know” during his deposition.

Oliver’s team then uploaded the videos of the four different Richard Sacklers reading extracts from his emails and depositions to the website SacklerGallery.com in satirical imitation of the family’s penchant for putting its name on galleries.

See the video above.

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