Every vast criminal conspiracy comes from small beginnings, doesn’t it? “Pain Hustlers” was originally based on the New York Times Magazine article “The Pain Hustlers” by investigative journalist Evan Hughes, who subsequently turned this into a book titled “The Hard Sell” four years later. As detailed in Esquire, the story followed the rise and fall of Insys Therapeutics, an Arizona-based company that developed a drug called Subsys — essentially Fentanyl under a different name. In the film, the company and the drug have been renamed Zanna Therapeutics and Lonafen, respectively, but the essence remains exactly the same. In both cases, the pharmaceutical company knowingly expanded its painkiller drug into the cancer patient marketplace, using the auspices of a “speaker program” to blatantly bribe doctors and other medical professionals into pushing the addictive spray and prescribing it to patients who never actually needed it in the first place.
In “Pain Hustlers,” we see this firsthand through the eyes of Liza Drake, a single mother with a teenage daughter who suffers from chronic health complications (all of which has been fictionalized). Desperate to make a living, a chance meeting with sales rep Pete leads her to the highly profitable position of selling the drug herself and raking in the rewards. In real life, the ploy of hiring attractive, down-on-their-luck sales representatives to bribe their way into a monopoly was a key part of the company’s tactics, taking advantage of countless vulnerable patients and leaving a path of destruction in its wake. And according to Marie Claire, some of the more over-the-top scenes involving parody raps, glamorous parties, and even the subplot of an affair and a digital paper trail of emails leading to the CEO’s downfall are all culled directly from the actual real-life events.