As it turns out, all six of Painkiller‘s intro disclaimers are presented by loved ones of someone who died due to opioid addiction. First up is Jennifer Trejo-Adams, the mother of Christopher Trejo, who concludes the intro with “What wasn’t fictionalized is that my son at the age of 15 was prescribed OxyContin. He lived in years and years of addiction and at the age of 32 he died. All alone in the freezing cold in a gas station parking lot. And we miss him.”
In an email to the The Los Angeles Times, Trejo-Adams said of her participation “We need to share our stories so that maybe someone else won’t be ashamed of theirs,” she wrote in an email. “I’m not ashamed of my son. What happened to him wasn’t his choice. It wasn’t his fault … or mine [now if someone could just tell my heart that].”
Episodes two through six feature similar messages in their pre-credit openers with mothers and fathers mourning their respective children Cassy, Patrick, Elizabeth, Matthew, and Riley – all of whom died following OxyContin use.
It’s a remarkable storytelling choice, the likes of which I can’t recall seeing. It turns what could be a creatively inert moment into unquestionably the most moving and human part of each episode … all while still somehow receiving the apparent blessing of Netflix’s legal team. In an interview with Collider, executive producer Eric Newman explained the reasoning behind the compelling intros thusly:
“When we got into the obligatory disclaimers that I put in the front of all my shows, I generally don’t think twice about. But in this case, [director] Pete [Berg] and I, particularly, were really struggling with the implication that we were letting them off the hook, before the show even started … We really tasked the Netflix legal department with like, ‘How do we get around this? Can we not do it? Can we do it in an inventive way that perhaps undercuts the efforts to dispel the truth of our show?’”
Newman goes on to say that Berg came up with the idea of having survivors of the victims of Oxycontin read the disclaimer and share their stories. He also mentions that it was tragically easy to find these people in the L.A. area as the effects of the opioid epidemic are so widespread.