Overview: With nearly a hundred Americans dying every day from opioid overdoses, the U.S. currently faces the worst drug epidemic in its history. More people die from opioid overdoses annually in the U.S. than from car accidents or gun homicides, a number that has quadrupled since 1999.
From journalist Perri Peltz (HBO’s RISKY DRINKING), this documentary tells devastating personal stories of families who have lost a loved one to an opioid overdose, all of them the result of addictions that started with doctors’ prescriptions of dangerous painkillers such as OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet. Also featuring harrowing pictures and cell phone videos, the documentary puts a human face on the epidemic of U.S. opioid addiction and its grave consequences.
Expectations: You had to know a documentary was going to come around covering this topic. Even in the rural borough I live in we see the problem of opioid addiction. The question for me here is one of how this topic is going to be addressed. As noted above we have seen the filmmaker’s work before when she addressed alcohol addiction. Are we going to get more of the same, but just switching the drug? The trailer is more of a tease not giving us a real hard look at any footage. I won’t know anything until I dive in so how about it?
Gut Reaction: Okay, the format of this documentary is parallel to Peltz’ previous film mentioned above. That is not a bad thing it just makes this documentary a bit more predictable than one hoped. Note, there are a number of other documentaries, some seen on HBO, that are uniquely different. This one and RISKY DRINKING are just similar. Similarities include statistics on the screen and more importantly, cited testimony from a few families who have lost a loved one to overdose or of family in the grips of using. We come back to one such subject throughout the film as her mother fights to keep her clean and alive. There was little surprise on how this all played out even down to the viral clip of the unconscious couple in the car with the infant strapped in the backseat. Rough image even though it’s been seen multiple times. The one that startled me, because I’ve never seen it before, was the clip of the guy on his phone turning the corner in the supermarket to witness a toddler crying as she holds her mother’s hand and Mom is passed out on the floor!
But I digress. The impact really hits when you see how easily people have become addicted just by following a doctor’s prescription. It is a fierce trap. The film makes that clear, but does not really put the epidemic under great scrutiny here. There are so many details and solutions that could have been addressed beyond just the dramatic cases cited within.
HBO: Why did you decide to approach this subject from such a personal perspective?
Perri Peltz: People may be aware there is an opioid overdose epidemic, but what Sascha and I believe has been missing from the dialogue is the humanity of people who are suffering from this disease. Addiction is a brain disease — and what we tried to do is show those who are suffering are not bad people. These are good people who got swept up in an addiction — often times, not at their own doing. They were taking the very medication they were prescribed and from there, it grew into a dependence.
HBO: How did you find the families you spoke with?
Sascha Weiss: We looked to nonprofits and small organizations. The family we spoke to in Illinois we found through an organization called Live for Lali, which a woman named Chelsea Laliberte started after her brother died of an opioid overdose. They focus on access to Naloxone and Narcan, the live-saving emergency antidote. In New Jersey we came across a bereavement group through a local newspaper. In California, we worked with Shatterproof, which is a national organization. The most amazing part about making this film was that so many people wanted to participate.
Perri Peltz: Documentaries like this don’t get made without extraordinarily brave people. In this case, the families who chose to open up their lives and their homes and share the worst possible loss that one can ever experience. They did it with such incredible dignity and humanity — and because they don’t want other families to struggle and suffer the way they have. In large part, that’s because of the stigma. One family in the film mentioned when a child dies of cancer, everyone comes and gathers around… but when your child dies of an overdose, people don’t want to get near. Choosing to tell their stories was to help eradicating stigma.
In Conclusion: it was certainly a glimpse into the epidemic but, dare I say, it only scratches the surface. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see WARNING: THIS DRUG MAY KILL YOU.
Next: We return to the popular True Crime genre with MOMMY DEAD AND DEAREST debuting Monday, May 15 at 10:00pm.