Edie Flowers From Painkiller Is Based On “A Few Different People”

Uzo Aduba’s attorney character required “some imagination.”

Originally Published: 
Jamaal Grant as Shawn Flowers, Uzo Aduba as Edie Flowers in 'Painkiller' Episode 6, via Netflix's pr...
Keri Anderson/Netflix

Each episode of Netflix’s Painkiller begins with loved ones of real-life victims of America’s opioid crisis reading a disclaimer: “This program is based on real events. However, certain characters, names, incidents, locations, and dialogue have been fictionalized for dramatic purposes.” The limited series, which explores some of the origins and aftermath of the opioid overdose epidemic, highlights the stories of the perpetrators, victims, and “truth-seekers” whose lives are forever altered by the invention of OxyContin. One figure Painkiller portrays as being at the forefront of the battle is no-nonsense attorney Edie Flowers (played by Uzo Aduba), but she isn’t a real person per se.

In the Netflix series, Edie is a lawyer in the US attorney’s Roanoke office investigating the then-new drug OxyContin. She attempts to bring a case against the narcotic pain medication’s manufacturer Purdue Pharma, the company widely blamed for creating the opioid crisis. Executive producer Eric Newman described Edie as one of the show’s “composite characters — a fictional amalgamation of a few different people,” in a Netflix promotional interview, explaining, “Edie Flowers is very much the moral compass of the show.”

Praising the Orange Is the New Black alum as a “tremendous actor” who anchors the series, director Pete Berg added, “Edie is the character who maneuvers through these different worlds. She’s our guide as we unpack the complexities of what Purdue did and how the opioid epidemic started and then spread.” In a separate interview with Netflix’s Tudum, Berg said that “Edie represents the front line.” He added, “At that time when OxyContin was just starting to be a thing and law enforcement all over the country was starting to see deaths, crimes and pill mills popping up, there was a group of law enforcement who were the first wave to see the tragedy beginning to unfold. They then had to start trying to figure out, ‘Well, what is going on here?’”

Keri Anderson/Netflix

Co-creator and writer Noah Harpster, for his part, explained the reason for fictionalizing Edie. “There is a challenge presented whenever you're dealing with real people in a story, public figures or not, to do service to the truth and to what really happened,” Harpster said in another Netflix promo interview. “In some cases, it's better to create a composite character that encompasses several peoples’ points of view rather than having three separate characters. And so, that was a big decision for us in creating Edie Flowers, played by Uzo Aduba, who is a composite character of a few different folks, plus some imagination as well.”

Though he and co-creator Micah Fitzerman-Blue based the Netflix series on Barry Meier’s book, Pain Killer, and Patrick Radden Keefe’s New Yorker article, “The Family That Built an Empire of Pain,” they didn’t name any specific inspirations for Aduba’s character. However, some possibilities include New York Attorney General Letitia James and lawyer John L. Brownlee (who is played by Tyler Ritter in Painkiller). In 2021, James announced the resolution of her lawsuit against Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family, which shut down the OxyContin manufacturer and ordered more than $4.5 billion to be paid to fund prevention, treatment, and recovery programs nationwide. Meanwhile, Brownlee was a Roanoke-based U.S. attorney who began investigating Purdue in 2002.

If you or someone you know is seeking help for substance use, call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

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