The opioid epidemic has been ravishing through the United State of America since the 1990’s and it has been worsening over the years. According to statistics from the Center for Disease Control, the number of individuals who have died from opioid overdose since 1999 has nearly quadrupled and in 2014, the most recent year for which statistics are available, more than 28,000 individuals died from opioid overdose and more than half of these numbers were from prescription opioids such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, fentanyl, and morphine.  Opioid prescriptions have skyrocketed and approximately 80% of new heroin users became hooked after beginning to take opioid prescription pain medications for nonmedical reasons. Opioid prescriptions are being sold on the black market, stolen from doctors’ offices and even sold by doctors for a large fee. According to studies, it is the misuse of prescription opioids that results in addiction. If individuals use them as directed, they have a very low chance of developing an addiction.

Saving lives through humanity

The media has become actively involved in highlighting the opioid epidemic in the United States. Stories of individuals overdosing are spread all over the news and social media however very few sources show how these overdoses are having devastating effects on a community as a whole. From the faces of victims to the first-responders who work endlessly to save lives, there is a story behind every overdose. The Netflix documentary “Heroin(e)” which was released in the fall of this year, looks at the opioid crisis through the lens of 3 women in Huntington, West Virginia who have dedicated their lives to fighting this growing epidemic. Huntington has been depressingly dubbed the “Overdose Capital of America”, due to its overdose rate ten times the national average.

Jan Rader, the fire chief in Huntington, West Virginia and one of the film’s main first-responders, touches on the subject of “compassion fatigue” which is common among first responders who revive the same individuals time and time again without those individuals getting the help they need.

“When you add hopelessness and unemployment and lack of education on top of all that, it’s kind of like a recipe for disaster,” Rader says during a ride-along in the documentary. “I fear that we’ve lost a couple generations, not just one generation. I fear that we’ve lost more than that.”

Many members of the fire and rescue squad have become hardened to the situation. Rather than focusing on the statistics, the director of this film wanted to show how the lives of women on the front lines, including Rader, Judge Patricia Keller, and Necia Freeman—a street missionary who provides services to opioid users—are affected.

Seeking help

This documentary also displays the heartbreaking stories of those individuals who are affected by opioid addiction and how they have lived through homelessness, prostitution, drug court, and witnessing their loved ones suffer. From saving lives by distributing the life-saving antidote, Naloxone, to handing out meals and hygiene products in brown paper bags to prostitutes, this documentary shows how grassroots can really bring positivity to a community. Although first responders do play a major role in fighting against the opioid epidemic, treatment for opioid addiction is long term and must be obtained through a treatment center that specializes in detoxification and long-term management. If you or a loved one is dependent on painkillers, now is the time to take a step toward recovery and build a healthier lifestyle toward a sustainable recovery.