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health as it happens

The face of addiction: Kaitlyn Dever excels in opioid drama ‘Dopesick’ - The Boston Globe

It’s always gratifying when good actors get a vehicle worthy of their talents.

Take Kaitlyn Dever, who delivers a wrenching performance in “Dopesick,” Hulu’s first-rate drama about the opioid epidemic.

Created by Danny Strong and based on a book by Beth Macy, “Dopesick” is a chronicle of the devastation wreaked on a Virginia mining community — and the nation — by opioid addiction, which has led to the deaths of more than 500,000 people in the US.

In her portrayal of coal miner Betsy Mallum, Dever puts an unforgettable face on that devastation. Betsy becomes addicted to OxyContin after her family physician (a never-better Michael Keaton) prescribes it to help her cope with pain stemming from a serious on-the-job injury.

The series unsparingly depicts the Sackler family, owners of Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin. The versatile Michael Stuhlbarg, who seldom seems to play the same kind of character twice, is memorably creepy as Purdue Pharma president Richard Sackler.

Over the course of its eight episodes, there are times when “Dopesick” gets bogged down in exposition. But to me that’s forgivable given 1) the overall quality of the series and 2) the fact that it jumps among several different time periods, requiring a certain amount of exposition to keep viewers from losing the narrative thread.

Dever turns 25 next week, but she has already had a varied career. She’s shone in good work like “Booksmart” (2019), and she has also pulled off the more difficult feat of shining in mediocre work like “Last Man Standing,” where she played Tim Allen’s feisty daughter Eve. She was the best reason to watch this year’s disappointing film adaptation of “Dear Evan Hansen,” where Dever portrayed Zoe Murphy, the sister of the high schooler whose suicide sets in motion Evan’s deceptions.

Now comes “Dopesick,” which you really ought to see. From start to finish, Dever makes us care about Betsy — and makes us realize what, and who, has been lost to addiction.

Don Aucoin can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @GlobeAucoin.