In the land of heroin addiction every step could be your last. However, what if the next step is away from the abyss, the metaphoric step back from the edge? Often when we tell the story of addiction, we only tell the sad story, the last step of a person’s miserable journey. As important as it is that we tell the story of the journey into the darkness, it is more important that we tell the story of the journey back into the light. The complete story of this journey is the focus of the new documentary by filmmaker Michael Venn, “The Heroin Effect,” a film I encourage all to see.
I recently had the opportunity of being part of an interview with Venn. The first thing that struck me about Venn is that The Heroin Effect was a labor of compassion, one driven by the personal connection he at first did not realize he was a part of. A simple conversation with a friend and the casual glance at the ever-increasing news headlines was Venn’s empathic moment, the proverbial cold water in the face.
That is not to say that Venn, like most of us, was not aware of the growing opioid crisis.
Like far too many of us, until it touches us personally, we most likely find ourselves in a state of “onlookers” driving past a horrendous vehicle accident. We wonder what happened, if there is anything we could or should do, and for a moment we might mourn those affected, whispering “but for the grace of God…” Yet, a few miles down the road we return to the “real world,” listening to the radio and rushing to our next “whatever.” This is not a condemnation of anyone, it is the reality of life. However, Venn came to the realization he could no longer remain just an onlooker.
During our interview, Venn said several things that struck me deeply, the first being that “film and music” can be powerful mediums in combating the plague that has devastated our community. I use the word plague with the complete understanding of the tone that the word will invoke in people. You cannot defeat a plague without first acknowledging it exists, and then we must seek a cure. In the case of this plague, Venn’s film offers one element of a “cure.” Hope.
Venn used his gift as a filmmaker to offer a true reflection of the crisis, avoiding what he calls “needle porn.” Venn pointed out that all too often Hollywood focuses on the stereotype of what they perceive a drug addict to be, telling stories only of unsympathetic, often sleazy characters. Often these characters are portrayed as completely dysfunctional, eventually dying of an overdose, as the camera zooms into the needle in the arm of a “dead junkie.” Needle porn may win someone an Oscar, but it does a disservice to the reality of addiction. For the most part, many addicts “function” in everyday society. Statistics tell us that most likely someone in your immediate circle is addicted to drugs and you do not know it.
One day Venn was talking with a close friend he had not seen in a while. Venn was aware that this friend had been involved in an accident sometime in the past, and casually ask the friend how he “was doing.” The friend went on to tell Venn about the journey into addiction. Venn describes his friend as someone he looked up to, a person every parent would want their daughter to marry, and one that parents would point to as a role model for their children. Venn knew he had to tell the story of our neighbors, the “kids next door,” decent people who stumbled on this journey we call life.
When I asked Venn about “where the documentary was filmed (the location),” he said something that struck me. Venn stated the location was “heroin.” Here I was thinking geography, a place on the map, someplace I could enter into my GPS. For addicts, their location truly is “heroin.”
Addicts are never free of their addiction; it will be a struggle every day of their life. The original call that led a person to their dependence with drugs never goes away. Sometimes it is a faint whisper, other times it is an inconsolable scream. If anyone is confused, we are all on this journey together. Contrary to the image of drug addict Hollywood has offered us, most drug users are good people, yet because of their addiction, our society has decided that it is easier to remain onlookers. As I have said in the past, “…but for the grace of God…,” is not a sentiment of relief but a call to action, and it can serve as our faint whisper, or haunt us as our own individual, inconsolable scream.
The Heroin Effect will return to The Music Hall in Portsmouth on Thursday, May 25 at 7 p.m. A panel discussion will follow the screening. For more information, visit www.themusichall.org/calendar/event/the_heroin_effect.