Film Shines Spotlight on National Opioid Epidemic
“Kids are Dying,” a documentary-style film, provides an up close look at the growing heroin epidemic in New Jersey. The film, which was featured at last year’s NYC Reel Recovery Film Festival, tackles this timely and relevant issue in the wake of many states, including New Jersey, declaring a state of emergency in response to the widespread increase in opioid addiction and overdose.
A national epidemic
A major contribution to the opioid epidemic is the over prescription of painkillers by doctors, a trend that is especially pronounced in the Northeast region of the United States. Over prescribing can ultimately result in an addiction to the medication. But what happens when the prescription runs out or becomes too expensive to be sustainable? In many cases, the individual seeks heroin, a cheaper alternative that can be accessed without having to go through a medical professional. In fact, about 75 percent of new heroin users in the past decade started out by taking prescription painkillers such as OxyContin, Percocet or Vicodin.
The national opioid epidemic shows few signs of improvement. In 2010, more than 16,000 people died from opioid-related deaths in the United States. From 2010-2012, heroin deaths increased 211 percent in the Northeast. In fact, drug overdose deaths have now surpassed traffic accidents as the leading cause of accidental death across the nation, largely driven by opioid (heroin and prescription painkiller) drug overdoses.
These national trends are highlighted throughout the film, which interviews many young people from New Jersey with severe opioid addiction and also identifies and dispels common misconceptions about heroin use.
Breaking down stereotypes
“Kids are Dying” highlights that heroin use is not just contained to urban centers, but instead chronicles the spread to suburban communities, where the affliction has taken a stronghold.
The film makes it clear that addiction can happen to anyone, regardless of race or class. This fact is supported by a recent study in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, which chronicled the changing face of heroin use in the last decade. Researchers found that 90 percent of the participants in the study, who started using heroin in the last decade, were non-Hispanic whites.
This finding counters the public perceptions of heroin use, which were likely derived from the 1960s and 1970s, when users were predominantly African-American men in lower socioeconomic urban areas. As such, the individual stories and families featured throughout the documentary are heterogeneous, coming from a variety of racial and socioeconomic backgrounds.
The film’s director, Michael DeLeon, has been quoted in the media explaining that the film was inspired by his own struggle with addiction. He believes the film fulfills a personal calling to educate the public about the epidemic and breakdown popular misconceptions about individuals who use heroin in the United States. He also exposes the devastation experienced by individuals suffering from addiction and the toll it takes on their loved ones.
While the film and statistics may sound grim, DeLeon manages to deliver a message of hope. He advocates that through increased awareness, collaboration and prevention within households and communities, the opioid epidemic facing our nation can be improved.
Tiffany John, LMSW
Tiffany John is a Research Associate at CASAColumbia
Alana Ribowsky is Grants, Contracts and Special Project Assistant at CASAColumbia