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.
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
It’s no secret 2016, is shaping up to be a very…ahem…exciting election season. Besides such issues of income inequality, the Supreme Court, reproductive justice, foreign policy, and so forth the increasingly dire news about global warming is weighing on many people’s minds-and makes Earth Day this year seem more weighted with symbolism than usual. Here are some more films that deal with environmental issues.
Erin Brockovich (2000) The biography of the real life Brockovich who successfully spearheaded a lawsuit against the Pacific Gas & Electric Company for polluting the water of Hinckley, California was a commercial and critical success that was nominated by the Academy for Best Picture, Best Director (Steven Soderberg) and won Julia Roberts the Oscar for Best Actress in the titular role of feisty single mom Erin. Albert Finney, Peter Coyote, Aaron Eckhart, all provide stellar performances as well.
Being Caribou (2005) Husband and wife team Karsten Heuer and Leanne Allison spent five months following the migration of the Porcupine caribou herd. Allison an environmentalist and Heuer a wildlife biologist were weighing in on the Arctic Refuge Drilling controversy, by demonstrating how such drilling threatened the herd’s survival since their natural calving grounds are within the Refuge. Being Caribou won scores of awards including a Gemini Award and most popular Canadian film at the Vancouver International Film Festival.
Happy Feet (2006) Every emperor penguin sings a ‘heartsong’ to attract a mate, but when Memphis (Hugh Jackman) manages to drop the egg while his mate Norma Jean (Nicole Kidman) is away their son Mumble (Elijah Wood) hatches without the gift of son. He can however, tap dance! While the main focus of this animated musical comedy is on Mumble’s struggle for acceptance, the driving catalyst is how over-fishing by man in the Antarctic waters has put the entire penguin colony at risk of starvation. Happy Feet won the BAFTA for Best Animated Film, the Saturn award for Best Animated Film, AND was the first Warner Brothers production to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.
Food Inc. (2008) This documentary directed by the Emmy nominated Robert Kenner examines the costs of industrial meat production and corporate farming in the U.S. It’s narrated by Michael Pollan author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Eric Schlosser author of Fast Food Nation. Interview subjects include food activists, former politicians, organic food executives and more. Food Inc. was nominated for both the Independent Spirit Award and the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
Virunga (2014) Directed by Orlando von Einseidel, Virunga chronicles the fight to save the natural beauty and biodiversity of the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo from oil exploration. It primarily focuses on four figures: gorilla caregiver Andre Bauma; park warden Rodrigue Mugaruka Katembo; chief warden Emmanuel de Merode; and French investigative journalist Melanie Gouby. It premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and after airing on Netflix it was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.