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.