There are so many twists and turns in Chris Bell’s Prescription Thugs that the viewer is left feeling slightly disoriented by the time it finishes. Whether or not you’ve seen 2008’s Bigger, Stronger, Faster, the follow-up documentary Prescription Thugs released seven years later stands alone as an endearing and well-crafted look into a national phenomenon that is affecting an entire nation: the over-prescription of prescription drugs. While it works alone, it does tie in to Bell’s first film (an examination of the use of steroids in bodybuilding) because he finds good reason to believe that the use of steroids in inextricably linked to the prescription and use of painkillers and other prescribed drugs.
The thugs in the title seem to refer to everybody, from the heads of the pharmaceutical companies, to the advertisers, to the doctors and patients themselves. Chris Bell looks at his subject matter with irony and resentment, disbelief and resignation. The film opens on the filmmaker’s older brother, an ex-WWE wrestler who never made it. This is where the journey begins. It becomes very clear that Bell’s motivation to make the documentary comes from the fact that his family is being affected by the same phenomenon that he is placing under scrutiny – Mike Bell is a walking, half-talking prescription drug, and his own awareness of this is truly tragic.
Read at Unsung Films: Mallory.
Like Bigger, Stronger, Faster, the viewer becomes aware that this is a very personal journey for Chris Bell; and as the film progresses, truths start to emerge, start to topple over each other, until one has a wholly different idea of what is really going on. Chris Bell (a large American ex-bodybuilder with a baseball cap back to front) allows the documentary to unravel in a remarkably and unexpectedly eloquent and succinct way. He also comes across educated and aware when discussing the subject matter with doctors, dieticians, politicians, and a multitude of victims.
In the beginning of the film, Bell also reminds us of some of the many celebrities whose deaths were the result of prescription medication – Heath Ledger (perhaps most shockingly), Michael Jackson, and Whitney Houston, but this is just the surface of the issue. He digs a little deeper and informs his viewers that 10% of American males are on antidepressants, or that, in spite of making up only 5% of the world’s population, Americans use up 75% of the world’s prescribed drugs!
The victims are not just celebrities and pro-wrestlers – an entire nation is being victimized by “Big Pharma” and the leaders of the most profitable business on the planet. The twists and revelations contained within Prescription Thugs serve to remind us that this disgusting reality has infiltrated almost every nook and cranny of an entire society; and that the cunning and dishonest world of pharmaceuticals has no bounds.
Watch the trailer for Prescription Thugs here: