Warning:  This Drug May Kill You

Nearly a hundred Americans die every day from opioid overdoses, a number that has quadrupled since 1999.  In fact, more people die from opioid overdoses annually in the U.S. than from car accidents or gun homicides. It is a startling statistic, but it doesn’t begin to tell the story of this public health crisis.

Warning: This Drug May Kill You takes an unflinching look at this little-known epidemic. Over the course of the 58-minute documentary, we meet four families whose loved ones have gone from pills to addiction, relapse, and death. And we share the families’ rollercoaster of emotions – disbelief, shock, anger, guilt, shame, and grief.

Journalist Perri Peltz delves deep into their stories, and masterfully draws from them intimate details of their lives, painful memories, and raw emotions.  These conversations are skillfully and sensitively intercut with home videos and photos of loved ones. Black and white video billboards strategically placed between segments bring home the message through eye-opening statistics.

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A mom with her daughter, “hooked” since the age of 16

Among the stories is a mother whose addiction spiraled out of control after she was given meds for a painful C-section; a young man saved from an overdose, only to succumb to another one later that day; and a young woman who got hooked at the age of sixteen and is still desperately trying to kick the habit … over and over again.

The idea for the film started with a question posed by Sheila Nevins, President of HBO Documentary Films, who asked, “Why are so many young Americans losing their lives to drug overdoses?”  Peltz and producer Sascha Weiss soon found out that opioids were to blame; and it wasn’t only the young who were dying. While there is an-going myth that the issue is about “young people abusing drugs”, the truth is that overdoses affect young, old, rich and poor alike. Drug use and abuse does not discriminate. Worse yet, the path to addiction often starts with legally prescribed painkillers, like OxyContin, Vicodin and Percoset, dispensed by doctors with good intentions. As was repeated several times during the film, and keeps echoing in my head, “I trusted the doctor”.

The documentary lays a lot of the blame squarely on the shoulders of big Pharma; and Purdue Pharma in particular, which launched an aggressive campaign in 1996 to promote the use of opioid pain meds, and whose doctors claimed, “Opioids can and should be used long term … less than 1% of users become addicted.”  Twenty years later, that “fact” proved to be a lie; and Purdue was made to pay one of the largest pharmaceutical settlements in U.S. history.

Yet opioids remain a multi-billion dollar industry with more than 250 million prescriptions written every year. But the bigger message that Peltz hopes to spread is that addiction is a brain disease; it is not a moral failing.  There is help out there, and people can recover.

The film will have its World Premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival and its National Television debut on HBO on May 1, 2017 at 10 p.m.  A companion website on HBO will offer information on recovery options, including medication-assisted treatment, and on where viewers can find help in their communities.

Photo courtesy of HBO.
Top photo: Parents of a young man who overdosed twice
About Paula M. Levine (20 Articles)
Paula is an award-winning writer, producer, and storyteller who has spent over twenty years producing news, feature stories, documentaries, and web content. Since 2014, she has also taught Writing and Media Relations at NYU in their Masters Program in PR and Corporate Communication. In her "copious spare time", she runs, bikes, and swims; and has completed 7 NYC Marathons.