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The Other Side Of Addiction: Doctor Feelgood’s Eve Marson

We often hear the grim stories from the side of the addicts – people struggling to put their lives back together or dying from overdoses. Rarely do we hear from the doctors who are writing the scripts. 

Eve Marson’s riveting documentary, Dr. Feelgood: Dealer or Healer? tells the story of Dr. William Hurwitz, who was convicted for narcotics distribution and given a twenty-five-year prison sentence. The film examines Dr. Hurwitz’s perspective and justifications in handing out prescriptions for narcotics, while also revealing the ruinous implications for doing so. Was he a compassionate doctor aimed at relieving the pain of his patients? Or a greedy drug dealer with a fancy title? 

We chatted with director Eve Marson about making the doc and how it moulded her current views towards the opioid epidemic. 

SDTC: How​ ​did​ ​you​ ​first​ ​hear​ ​of​ ​Dr.​ ​Hurwitz?​ ​How​ ​did​ ​your​ ​feelings​ ​about​ ​him​ ​evolve​ ​over the​ ​course​ ​of​ ​making​ ​of​ ​this​ ​documentary?

EM: I​ ​had​ ​been​ ​discussing​ ​the​ ​topic​ ​of​ ​opioid​ ​painkillers​ ​for​ ​several​ ​years​ ​with​ ​my​ ​friends​ ​Dr. Alison​ ​Block​ ​and​ ​Dr.​ ​Timothy​ ​Poore.​ ​They​ ​emphasized​ ​to​ ​me​ ​how​ ​rampantly​ ​opioids were​ ​being​ ​over-prescribed​ ​and​ ​how​ ​they​ ​dealt​ ​with​ ​addiction​ ​and​ ​abuse​ ​every​ ​day​ ​on the​ ​job.​ ​But​ ​it​ ​wasn’t​ ​until​ ​I​ ​read​ ​a​ ​magazine​ ​profile​ ​of​ ​a​ ​doctor​ ​who​ ​had​ ​been​ ​targeted by​ ​the​ ​government​ ​for​ ​over-prescribing​ ​painkillers​ ​that​ ​I​ ​thought​ ​to​ ​myself,​ ​this​ ​could​ ​be an​ ​interesting​ ​film.​ ​The​ ​story​ ​had​ ​never​ ​been​ ​told​ ​from​ ​the​ ​perspective​ ​of​ ​the​ ​doctor before.

Soon​ ​after​ ​that,​ ​my​ ​producing​ ​partner​ ​Sara​ ​Goldblatt​ ​discovered​ ​that​ ​a​ ​former classmate​ ​of​ ​hers​ ​was​ ​the​ ​son​ ​of​ ​Dr.​ ​Hurwitz’s​ ​defense​ ​lawyer,​ ​and​ ​so​ ​the​ ​connection was​ ​made.​ ​We​ ​researched​ ​Hurwitz’s​ ​case​ ​and​ ​it​ ​was​ ​particularly​ ​intriguing​ ​to​ ​me because​ ​the​ ​testimonies​ ​contradict​ ​each​ ​other​ ​so​ ​sharply.​ ​Some​ ​of​ ​his patients​ ​see​ ​him​ ​as​ ​a​ ​heroic​ ​genius,​ ​while​ ​others​ ​dismiss​ ​him​ ​as​ ​a​ ​fool​ ​and​ ​a​ ​murderer. It​ ​was​ ​always​ ​my​ ​intention​ ​to​ ​make​ ​a​ ​film​ ​that​ ​presented​ ​an​ ​ambiguous​ ​portrayal​ ​of​ ​Dr. Hurwitz.​ ​The​ ​questions​ ​arise:​ ​Is​ ​he​ ​a​ ​compassionate​ ​doctor​ ​or​ ​a​ ​reckless​ ​drug trafficker?​ ​I​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​show​ ​both​ ​perspectives​ ​but​ ​never​ ​wanted​ ​the​ ​film​ ​to​ ​take​ ​a​ ​clear stance.

What​ ​do​ ​you​ ​think​ ​needs​ ​to​ ​happen​ ​to​ ​stem​ ​the​ ​opioid​ ​epidemic?​ ​What​ ​sort​ ​of​ ​policy change​ ​do​ ​you​ ​think​ ​would​ ​be​ ​effective?

This​ ​is​ ​a​ ​difficult​ ​question,​ ​and​ ​one​ ​that​ ​we​ ​are​ ​all​ ​still​ ​trying​ ​to​ ​answer.​ ​I​ ​do​ ​believe​ ​that treating​ ​addiction​ ​as​ ​a​ ​disease​ ​rather​ ​than​ ​a​ ​criminal​ ​act​ ​is​ ​an​ ​important​ ​shift​ ​that​ ​needs to​ ​happen​ ​in​ ​policy​ ​(and​ ​already​ ​is​ ​happening).​ ​I​ ​also​ ​commend​ ​the​ ​recent​ ​change​ ​in national​ ​guidelines​ ​aimed​ ​at​ ​controlling​ ​the​ ​quantity​ ​of​ ​opioid​ ​prescriptions​ ​that​ ​can​ ​be written​ ​by​ ​doctors.

What​ ​did​ ​you​ ​learn​ ​about​ ​human​ ​nature​ ​during​ ​the​ ​making​ ​of​ ​this​ ​documentary?

The​ ​parable​ ​of​ ​Gimple​ ​The​ ​Fool​ ​will​ ​always​ ​stick​ ​with​ ​me.​ ​Gimple,​ ​perhaps​ ​like​ ​Dr. Hurwitz,​ ​chooses​ ​not​ ​to​ ​see​ ​that​ ​he​ ​is​ ​being​ ​deceived​ ​by​ ​those​ ​he​ ​trusts​ ​and​ ​so​ ​he continues​ ​to​ ​give,​ ​rather​ ​than​ ​punish.​ ​Selective​ ​blindness​ ​is​ ​undoubtedly​ ​part​ ​of​ ​human nature,​ ​and​ ​in​ ​these​ ​dark​ ​times​ ​sometimes​ ​I​ ​wonder,​ ​is​ ​it​ ​so​ ​bad​ ​to​ ​only​ ​see​ ​the​ ​good?

What​ ​do​ ​you​ ​hope​ ​viewers​ ​will​ ​take​ ​away​ ​from​ ​the​ ​film?

There​ ​is​ ​a​ ​complexity​ ​to​ ​this​ ​issue​ ​of​ ​opioid​ ​painkillers,​ ​and​ ​many​ ​different​ ​opinions​ ​and reactions​ ​to​ ​the​ ​film​ ​are​ ​valid.​ ​Whether​ ​you​ ​feel​ ​sympathy​ ​for​ ​Dr.​ ​Hurwitz​ ​or​ ​anger,​ ​I​ ​do hope​ ​the​ ​audience​ ​takes​ ​away​ ​two​ ​things:

1.​ ​New​ ​knowledge​ ​of​ ​the​ ​scope​ ​of​ ​opioid​ ​addiction​ ​and​ ​abuse​ ​today;​ ​and
2.​ ​A​ ​deeper​ ​understanding​ ​of​ ​how​ ​we​ ​got​ ​to​ ​this​ ​place​ ​and​ ​how​ ​difficult​ ​it​ ​is to​ ​affect​ ​change​ ​at​ ​this​ ​point.

We​ ​need​ ​to​ ​appreciate​ ​the​ ​complexity​ ​of​ ​the​ ​issue​ ​so​ ​that​ ​we​ ​can​ ​call​ ​for​ ​careful​ ​action and​ ​choose​ ​the​ ​right​ ​solutions​ ​for​ ​this​ ​problem.

Doctor Feelgood screens tonight as part of the Rendezvous With Madness Film Festival at Workman Arts (651 Dufferin St.) Get tickets here. And if you miss it there, watch it on Netflix

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