Netflix’s new six-part docuseries The Business of Drugs has its moments, but it’s couched in an all-too-familiar Western perspective and lacks potential insight.
The business of drugs is lucrative, global, and as of today available in six parts on Netflix. But this new docuseries, each episode of which hones in on a different drug from cocaine to synthetics, heroin, meth, cannabis, and opioids, is a shallow affair as such things go, attempting to unpack the worldwide production and distribution of narcotics with an underlying perspective disappointingly couched in the West in general and America specifically.
This isn’t to say that the series doesn’t make an effort to visit the places and speak with the people central to these various trades – the business of drugs is, after all, a wide-reaching one which is profitable to a great many and indescribably devastating to many more. But led by former CIA analyst Amaryllis Fox, the various sit-down interviews with experts and front-line personnel – all standard fixtures of the docuseries format – is explicitly framed as an American interloper uncovering information for the benefit of a largely American audience; simplified and often befuddling analogies easily understood by Westerners are deployed frequently to make this quite clear.
The economic impact, too, is understood as a matter of American dollars, and however well The Business of Drugs is able to lay out a chain of cause-and-effect – sometimes quite well indeed – the considerations never really expand outwards enough to take in other interesting global factors, such as the encroaching or long-past legalization of certain substances in certain countries, or the damaging economic disparity that often emerges when drug use and misuse becomes rife in a community or culture.
Since the issue of drugs will always be politically charged, shows like this will amass a sizeable audience and fervent debate either way. But whatever debates spring from The Business of Drugs, helped along by various diagrams, figures, and other useful materials, won’t be an outgrowth of a deep and rounded perspective on such a complex topic, but a specific perspective on the issue that isn’t as eye-opening as it might have been had that viewpoint been just a little more wide-ranging.