Lonafen in Netflix’s Pain Hustlers: What Drug is it Based On?

By Louie Fecou
Published: October 28, 2023 (Last updated: 5 weeks ago)
Pain Hustlers - What is Lonafen based on?
Emily Blunt and Chris Evans in Pain Hustlers | Image via Netflix

Netflix‘s satirical medical drama Pain Hustlers, starring Emily Blunt, Chris Evans, and Catherine O’Hara, comes quickly in the wake of the previous Netflix offering Painkiller. These stories continue to explore the opioid crisis that occurred in the U.S., a terrifying series of circumstances that would see many people becoming addicted to prescription drugs, leading to countless tragic cases. The drug of choice in Pain Hustlers is called Lonafen, and many have wondered if the drug is real, or at least based on another drug.

The film is indeed based on real events, though the names used were all part of the fictional screenplay. However, with so much being revealed about the events that surrounded the opioid crisis, the lines between reality and fiction have become blurred.

What drug is Lonafen based on in Netflix’s Pain Hustlers?

The drug Lonafen is heavily featured in the film and is sold by a company called Zanna Therapeutics. The film’s creators have based the fictional drug on a real-life medicine called Subsys, a sublingual form of Fentanyl.

The drug was developed as a painkiller, and the film depicts it being prescribed to people who may not have needed it. It is also highly addictive, leading to people becoming reliant on it, mirroring real-life circumstances for patients who took similar drugs to help with pain relief in the U.S.

Fentanyl was highly addictive, and administered as pain relief for cancer patients. This line graph from the National Institute on Drug Abuse is particularly alarming.

Line graph showing deaths from overdoses, including from Fentanyl

A chart showing drug-involved overdose deaths among all ages from 1991-2021, with a clear upward trend for sythentic opioids, primarily Fentanyl | Image via National Institute on Drug Abuse

What was Zanna Therapeutics based on?

Pain Hustlers has taken many elements from real life and presented them in the movie, and that includes the company behind the fictional drug Lonafen. Zanna Therapeutics is a movie variant of the real-world company Insys Therapeutics, based in Arizona, that produced the pain relief medication Subsys.

In the film, we also meet Dr Neel, played by Andy Garcia, and this character is derived from his real-life counterpart John Kapoor, who was the founder of Insys.

John Kapoor, Insys Therapeutics founder

John Kapoor | Image via Getty Images

Although there is no real confirmation, it does look as if the character that Emily Blunt portrays may be based on Maria Guzman, who was a whistle-blower who helped expose the story in the first place.

What happens in Pain Hustlers?

The film follows high school dropout Liza (Blunt), who is trying to make life for herself and her daughter just a little better.

Eventually, she manages to find a job working for an unscrupulous pharmaceutical company in a fading Florida mall.

Liza is determined to make a success of the position and finds that her drive and ambition, and a natural flair for selling, start to change the company’s trajectory. However, she also finds herself embroiled in a racketeering conspiracy.

Our comprehensive ending explained article will give a clearer sense of the movie’s progression and climax if you’re interested.


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