By Zach Hollwedel
Source: Under the Radar
In 2008, Chris Bell’s Bigger, Stronger, Faster* plunged into the (un)surprisingly rampant reality of athletic doping. Never a fly-on-the-wall documentarian, Bell organically infuses himself into his films, rendering them particularly potent. In the case of his fascinating 2008 exposé, Bell turned his lens on American bodybuilders’ use of steroids, with a particular focus on his own brother, Mike. Mike “Mad Dog” Bell was an aspiring WWE wrestler who, while struggling to achieve the stardom he so fully desired, took to using performance and muscle enhancers.
Now, seven years later, Chris Bell returns with a natural follow-up. Prescription Thugs examines the fallout of another substance abuse problem all too common in, though far from exclusive to professional sports. Perpetually banged and bruised in the ring, Mike Bell took to prescription drugs as a means of curing—or at least numbing—his ailing body. He was by no means alone. Chris Bell and his co-directors, Josh Alexander and Greg Young, interview a number of athletes whose dependency upon over the counter medications got the better of them.
Immensely relatable and genuine as the face of the film, Bell sheds tremendous light on America’s dependence on prescription medication, an addiction which he indicates was largely born in the Reagan years. Given his brother’s history—and, it turns out, his own—Bell approaches the problem from an extremely personal angle, and the honesty pays off in spades. We feel for Bell and his friends and family, as they break down—or defend—their perilous reliance upon pill popping. One of the most extreme cases is Matt “Horshu” Wiese, who at the acme of his addiction, was taking upwards of 90 pills a day. Horshu admits that part of his regimen included two Viagra each morning, “just in case.” Through interviews with his burly subjects—and also with homemakers and students, who inadvertently and unintentionally got hooked—Bell reveals how easily one pill can lead to two, can lead to ten or more. The genesis of the addiction often comes in the form of the “just ask your doctor” Rx ads that inundate television these days. Big pharma colludes to sell medication for virtually any and every imaginable symptom (some of which they basically fabricate), and when side effects present previously unfelt problems, they develop a secondary drug for those. So on and so forth, until consumers are hooked to a habit Bell reveals to be little different from a legalized form of heroin in some cases.
With Prescription Thugs, Bell again proves a consistent, affable filmmaker well versed in investigative filmmaking with a penchant for the personal.
Watch Prescription Thugs on Kanopy here: https://www.kanopy.com/en/product/582224