Before this year’s LA Film Festivalevenopened, the Documentary Competition looked particularly strong. With the festival more than half over, the documentaries certainly have not disappointed. Having its World Premiere on Sunday was Eve Marson’s powerful and thought-provoking Dr. Feelgood. Chronicling the controversy surrounding the prescription use (and abuse) of opioids, Marson examines controversial figure Dr. William Hurwitz, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison for prescribing these drugs.

Opioids, Opiates, and OxyContin abuse in the news.

In the past few years, newspapers and news broadcasts have been filled with the terrors of opioid, opiates and OxyContin abuse. And it’s no wonder. Opioid painkillers kill more Americans each year than HIV or car accidents, and more than heroin and cocaine combined. Only a short time ago rock genius Prince’s autopsy declared he died from opiates. The drug has historically been hailed for relieving chronic pain, but it’s also been shunned for its addictive quality. To put it bluntly, opioid abuse is a large and growing threat to the welfare of our country.

'Dr. Feelgood'is timelier than ever

Launching into Marson’s documentary, one expects to be furious with Dr. Hurwitz. After all, history tells us that this doctor was convicted of 50 counts of narcotics distribution and was stripped of his medical license and sentenced to a 25-year prison sentence (after an appeal he served four years, eight months). But director Marson does a thorough job of portraying the various views and facts surrounding the history of the drugs, doctors, patients, and victims. Suddenly the use of opioids and Dr. Hurwitz’s views on treating chronic pain aren’t so black and white.

Dr. William Hurwitz – a devil or savior?

Dr. Hurwitz is no saint. But the film paints a portrait of a sometimes-flawed man, who genuinely wants to treat chronic pain. Dr. Hurwitz and other doctors mention in the film that there is no test to quantify a patient’s pain. One has to trust and take the patient at his word. Something else to note is that humans are wired differently; we all have different side effects from drugs.

Also, some people experience addictive properties differently. For some who were interviewed, like New Mexico’s chronic pain sufferer Molly Shaw, Dr. Hurwitz and his opioids were a godsend. For others, Dr. Hurwitz’s large-quantity prescriptions resulted in a death spiral of addiction.

But is the doctor fully to blame? Did he follow the guidelines set by the medical board? Did he play fast and loose with the rules?

Did Dr. Hurwitz believe liars who were reselling his drugs for deathly profit? Dr. Feelgood examines all sides of the opioid calamity as well as Dr. Hurwitz himself.

The opioid crisis is escalating and as citizens, we must educate ourselves with the many facets of this troubling dilemma. Dr. Feelgood is an exceptional primer for this debate, as well as an excellent film.

For more information about the LA Film Festival, including schedule and screenings, visit the LA Film Festival website.

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