What’s Behind The Film “American Addict”?

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The U.S. has 5% of the world’s population, but consumes 50% of its pharmaceuticals and 80% of its painkillers. Why do we have such an alarming appetite for prescription drugs?

That’s the question at the heart of American Addict, a documentary by Gregory A. Smith, M.D., and filmmaker Sasha Knezev. The answer, according to the team’s research, is multifaceted and troubling, but it boils down to this: Pharmaceuticals are big business.

“We’ve been conditioned to think there is a pill for everything,” says Knezev, “and we have such a cultural pattern of fast living — being incredibly busy with our jobs and with our lives — that we seek a quick fix without looking at the overall detriment to our long-term health or what it does to our minds.”

As a result, “70% of Americans are on some type of prescription drug,” Knezev says. That helps bring the nation’s top pharmaceutical companies a combined annual revenue of between $300 and $400 billion, he says. “That’s more money than the gross domestic product of two-thirds of the world’s countries.”

The film seeks to show that this eagerness to keep the profits coming has led to disturbing trends in marketing, lobbying and in interlocking relationships between pharmaceutical companies and doctors, media, government officials and regulatory agencies. It has also helped inspire a prescription drug abuse epidemic, the filmmakers say. In short, Dr. Smith says, “The general health of the public is being trumped by big business.”

And the issues aren’t going away, Dr. Smith says. A sequel, American Addict 2, is in the works and scheduled for a fall 2014 release. It will look at a host of new concerns, including possible links between mass shootings and psychotropic drugs, and a “hot new market” — drugs for children ages four and under, even anti-anxiety medications, he says. “I would love to make an American Addict 3 showing that it’s gotten better and why,” Dr. Smith says, “but I really don’t think it’s going to get better before it gets a lot worse, unfortunately.”