Pain Hustlers is the latest Netflix project to explore the opioid crisis, following in the footsteps of Painkiller and The Fall of the House of Usher, which landed on the streamer earlier this year.


Although the new film has a slightly different tone to its predecessors, it tells a similarly harrowing tale, revolving around a pharmaceutical company that sells a new opioid called Lonafen.

The new dark comedy boasts a star-studded cast including Emily Blunt and Chris Evans and naturally, fans have been left wanting to know about the true story that inspired it.

So, is Pain Hustlers based on a true story, is Lonafen a real drug and is Blunt's character Liza Drake a real person? Read on for everything you need to know.

Pain Hustlers true story: Is Lonafen based on a real drug?

Chris Evans as Brenner, Andy Garcia as Neel and Emily Blunt as Liza in Pain Hustlers
Chris Evans as Brenner, Andy Garcia as Neel and Emily Blunt as Liza in Pain Hustlers. Brian Douglas/Netflix

The genesis for Pain Hustlers is a New York Times article of the same name from journalist Evan Hughes which featured his reporting into a pharmaceutical company that was convincing doctors to prescribe their new drug – a liquid fentanyl-based painkiller called Subsys – as a form of treatment for cancer patients.

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While Lonafen is a fictional drug, it is based on the actual drug Subsys.

Upon reading the story, screenwriter Wells Tower recalls: "I was just astounded by this incredible story. I found it mind-blowing that these people, who for the most part have no medical training, have so much influence over the medications we’re prescribed.

"And they have this influence because they’re bribing doctors to prescribe medications, in this case fentanyl, even to patients who don’t need it. I knew we had a story on our hands that could offer some really shocking insights into how American medicine works."

Insys Therapeutic filed for bankruptcy in 2019 with a number of top executives found guilty of racketeering with founder Kapoor sentenced to five years in prison.

Is Liza Drake a real person in Pain Hustlers?

Emily Blunt as Liza and Chris Evans as Brenner in Pain Hustlers
Emily Blunt as Liza and Chris Evans as Brenner in Pain Hustlers. Brian Douglas/Netflix

While much of the story is loosely grounded in the real-life rise and fall of the company Insys Therapeutic and its founder John Kapoor, the company at the heart of the story – Zanna – is fictionalised and headed up by a figure named Jack Neel (Andy Garcia), while the lead character of Liza (Emily Blunt) is an entirely original creation.

Director Yates said about adapting the story for the film: "With the exception of Liza, they're all kind of loosely based on existing characters from that pharma world. But we gave Wells licence to create his own unique version of people.

"They're inspired by, I would suggest, rather than biographical per se. And Liza was our invention, a single mum with a daughter struggling with health issues, a dreamer, undervalued but incredibly capable."

Pain Hustlers is available to watch now on Netflix. Sign up for Netflix from £4.99 a month. Netflix is also available on Sky Glass and Virgin Media Stream.

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