Daily Archives: August 30, 2021

Dr. Feelgood (2016)

*. I don’t know when the term Dr. Feelgood first started being applied to doctors who obliged their patients with the abuse of prescription drugs to help ease their pain or to just get them through the day (“momma’s little helpers”). Both John F. Kennedy’s and Elvis Presley’s personal physicians were referred to as Dr. Feelgoods, so it goes back a way.
*. The profession, of Dr. Feelgood really took off with the opiate epidemic in the United States though, where pills like OxyContin became a drug of choice and then an addiction for sufferers of chronic pain. This documentary examines the case of one such Dr. Feelgood, Dr. William Hurwitz.
*. Was Dr. Hurwitz a caring professional or an unscrupulous pusher running a pill mill? Healer or dealer? If you’re familiar with the way these docs work you know that they’ll set you up to think one thing at the beginning and then pull the rug out from under you at some point with a disturbing revelation. That’s basically what happens here, as we hear from a couple of patients who are sad cases and who claim Hurwitz saved their lives. But then we hear from the police, and the families of less fortunate patients (who committed suicide or died of overdoses), as well as tape recordings made by patients who went in to the clinic wearing a wire. On this evidence it seems like Hurwitz was basically a pusher. He is convicted at trial, though much of this is reversed on appeal. To this day he has his defenders, but there are also those who think he got off easy.
*. There’s a third alternative. Hurwitz’s wife calls him a fool, which is just possible but unlikely. It’s the way some of his peers also saw him, and he may have indeed been foolish, but more than that he was terribly irresponsible. It was obvious he was giving a lot of pills to people who shouldn’t have been getting them. That part is on him, and his defence that he was just doing his job and he wasn’t a cop doesn’t come across as very convincing. Everyone will have their own take, but I didn’t find him a very sympathetic figure when being interviewed.
*. I also didn’t find this true-crime part of the movie particularly interesting. What it does draw attention to, however, is the whole question of personal choice vs. the public good. If you want something, and can afford it, should you be allowed to have it regardless of the consequences? That would be the libertarian judgment. Prohibition doesn’t work! And isn’t it better to do this through these sort of channels instead of having junkies hooked on heroin out on the street?
*. But of course substance abuse doesn’t just affect the addict, and so the government has to step in because when dealing with a product this powerfully addictive people can’t stop themselves. It’s a message that could have been more powerfully made here, as Dr. Feelgood never rises much above the level of a rather average Frontline episode.