HBO Documentary Films: HEROIN: CAPE COD, USA

By Jef Dinsmore on Dec 31, 2015 to Documentaries

Doc-logoOverview: Known for its quaint villages, lighthouses and beaches, the picturesque summer vacation destination of Cape Cod has been struck with an epidemic of young people hooked on affordable, easily acquired heroin. This harrowing film takes an unsparing look at the lives of eight heroin addicts in their early 20s, living a seemingly endless existence of getting high while cyclinDocs_HerionCapeCod_Posterg through stages of rehab, recovery and relapse. Falmouth, Mass. is a typical community in a state that has lately seen an average of nearly four heroin deaths per day. The individuals spotlighted in HEROIN: CAPE COD, USA, all of whom live in the area, talk candidly about their heroin habit and their community, where, according to one of them, “either you work or you do drugs.”

This documentary also visits the Parents Supporting Parents Group of Cape Cod, where parents describe raising their kids in happy homes, only to see everything change when their sons and daughters started abusing pain medication. Receiving invaluable support from other parents in the same situation, they share feelings of codependency and discuss the financial burden of having a child cycling in and out of detox.


Expectations: From where I sit I see this documentary as an update or a sequel to previous films on this topic. In anticipation of watching this one I recall HBO programming under the AMERICA UNDERCOVER banner that began in the mid-80’s. There were some strong documentaries then about the drug culture, habits and addiction. The camera went into crack houses and heroin dens then and sadly still go back into them decades later.

The angle HEROIN: CAPE COD, USA takes, however, changes the focus from the big metro centers into the smaller communities of America and uses the testimonies of the users here as an example of what has spread into communities. Unfortunately, we can probably all attest to the more widespread usage and trade of drugs. I’m eager to see this film’s take on it all.  Perhaps due to the accompanied trailer you will be also.


Gut Reaction: I’m not here to preach. I had thoughts about interjecting observations on how drug busts have even escalated in my rural area over the years and even my opinion on the culture and habits of users, but we all are touched by it in our own communities in one way or another so what I add isn’t important. What I am here to do is tell you whether this is a documentary worth seeing or not and I’m telling you that it is.Docs_heroinCapeCod02

The documentary at first slips in pertinent statistics to illustrate how the drug market has fluctuated over time and how the cheaper drugs have been seeping into smaller U. S. communities. Hell, one low level dealer drives 160 miles a night into Boston to get his supply. Then the film moves away from the statistics to center on examples of small city drug life; in this case Cape Cod, MA, which is a boringly dead place after tourist season is over.

We sit in on the lifestyle of eight different people has they hustle, deal, cope and dope up day after day. The camera is there as they give testimony and get high. If you are oblivious to the addiction and death cycle such abusers face you might be taken aback; that’s a good thing to get repelled by dugs from the safety of a documentary. You might also be a bit shocked at what lengths they will go to get their next hit though those actions are never seen onstage. Stories or stealing and sex trade come to light. Enabling parents also come to light.

It is all a vicious cycle that affects everyone and this film is unflinching in showing it. While you are unsettled by the behavior of these people who are drawn into their stories. Maybe you relate or maybe you are repulsed or maybe have compassion. I love the comment one mother makes at the support group that says that when any other medical ill befalls a household people send casseroles and she hasn’t seen one yet. That was the only chuckle expressed.

It is all expressed well in their own words. The addicts are living the life we can only stumble to understand. Through their haze and challenged brain cells they articulate the journey that got them to the state they are in. Sadly, most of them started after taking prescribed pain medications after accidents. Others just graduated to cheaper and more potent drugs after dabbling in alcohol or marijuana. All of them continued further down the deadly path because they couldn’t cope with their Docs_HeroinCapeCod03realities without the high. It leaves you sad that there are these trapped and desperate people that are not strong enough to make better choices for their lives because they are too lazy to fight out of their funk.


Bonus: I just want to pull a couple of quotes from HBO’s interview with the documentarian Steven Okazaki.

 HBO: Was it a challenge to work with young people who were at risk of killing themselves — some of whom died while making the film?


STEVEN OKAZAKI: Two of the young women in the film, Marissa(pictured) and Arianna (in poster above), died from overdoses during the time we were making the film, but not while we were filming. I don’t know if they were alone or with someone who was too fucked up to help them. They were both bright, caring and beautiful. People loved them, but the drug was stronger.


The film features eight addicts. They’re all different. Their reasons for becoming addicts are deeply personal. You don’t know who’s going to survive, who’s going to get clean, who’s going to die. It’s scary. I don’t have high ideas about getting them to quit after the people who love them have failed. We’re in their lives for a brief moment in time. I don’t promise anything but to portray them as honestly as I can. I ask them how it’s going, what they’re thinking. If they’re thinking about going to detox, we’ll take them, with or without the camera on. Maybe being in the film will be a part of their motivation for getting clean. Maybe it won’t. Minimally, maybe seeing the film will help somebody else.


HBO: Why include the parents of addicts in the film?



S. O.: I heard that there was a parents’ support group in Cape Cod which meets every Monday, except on holidays. On a Columbus Day, when they weren’t having their usual meeting, I asked if they would have a special one for us, in front of the cameras. Twenty to 30 people show up for the regular meetings, so I hoped to get five or six for the filming — we ran out of chairs. Everybody showed up, open and eager to talk. They’re tired of hiding their child’s addiction, of feeling lonely and ostracized. They need to share their stories, and they want to get the word out and try to help each other. That was really moving, how frank they were about what it’s like to be the parent of an addict, someone they love and can’t seem to help.


Most of the addicts in the film are/were close to their parents. They talk to them regularly and, in some cases, the parents are enabling their habits. It’s dramatic, compelling, and important to see how they’re affected by their child’s addiction.


In Conclusion: I could go further and single out all the participants in the piece, but I have more interest in leaving those particulars vague so that you’ll want to seek out their tragic stories yourself. There is a happy ending for one of them by film’s end. But, that is the only one for addiction is a nasty trap that more and more people are falling in for as the stats state here. See HEROIN: CAPE COD, USA and let it be a warning.  


Next Week: Actually over the next few weeks are encore showings on Monday nights. The quartet in January are 3 ½ MINUTES, TEN BULLETS (encore 01.04 at 6:15pm); GOING CLEAR: SCIENTOLOGY AND THE PRISON OF BELIEF (encore 01.11 at 6:00pm); Spike Lee’s 4 LITTLE GIRLS (encore 01.18 at 6:15pm) and REGARDING SUSAN SONTAG (encore 01.25  at 5:00pm). On 02.01 is HARD TIMES: LOST ON LONG ISLAND at 4:00pm. We’ll be back for a premiere review upon the airing of HOMEGROWN: THE COUNTER-TERROR DILEMMA ON 02.08 AT 9:00PM.  

  • Eleonora Iafano

    After watching this documentary, I felt anger and sorrow. Anger that this drug turns seemingly normal people into slaves: slaves to a horrendous addiction. Sorrow at knowing that a few of them died from overdoses, one had two small children left behind and the parents are left to cope with their child’s death. Watching that parent support group was heart wrenching – these parents were put on an emotional and financial roller coaster trying to help their kids. Some of the kids, I felt, were almost taking advantage of the fact that their parents would keep paying for rehab and detox. I felt anger that the two young women who relapsed and overdosed could have gone on to be successful and live happy, healthy lives. I have never been addicted to anything and I grew up in a northern suburb of the Greater Toronto Area. Heroin was never accessible but I was never a person to ever want to go down that dark path. Lives are wasted and parents are heartbroken. The only winners here are the drug dealers and drug manufacturers. Sad.

  • Eleonora Iafano

    Definitely going to watch this one. Looks so sad and what’s more to the point, with all the statistics about drug use and drug related deaths, it’s shocking to see how badly people become hooked on heroin.

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