Heroin: documentary follows six families in Vermont

10/08/02 12:00AM By Neal Charnoff
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(Host) A new documentary that examines Vermont's heroin problem is being shown throughout the state. Filmmaker Bess O'Brien is hoping the movie will raise awareness about how serious the problem has become.

VPR's Neal Charnoff reports.


(Charnoff) One year ago, filmmaker Bess O'Brien was approached by a group called the Drug Abuse Resistance Team. The organization is made up of people from the St. Johnsbury area who are concerned about drug use in the community. They wanted to make a documentary that could put a human face on heroin addiction.

The resulting film, "Here Today", examines the impact heroin has on addicts, and on their families. O'Brien is hoping the film breaks common misconceptions about heroin and the people who use it.

(O'Brien) "One of the things the film does is it shows how heroin does not just affect the victim, how heroin really affects everyone around the victim, to the same degree, in devastating a family, in breaking up a family, in creating a lot of crisis."

(Charnoff) The 55-minute film profiles six families from the Northeast Kingdom. The participants are of all ages, and come from diverse economic backgrounds.

(Nancy) "The shame involved in having a son that's a drug addict was astounding. I was shocked - I knew nothing about it, absolutely nothing except what you see on TV. You know, the junkie idea. The kind of idea that you just sort of die from it. I really had no clue what it was all about."
(Adam) "It's not enough just to have good parents that raise you right, you know? Cause I had that. Somehow things went wrong somewhere. Right now my daughter is at a point. Right this- within this hour, she's at a turning point. And here today she's here, yesterday she was there, tomorrow she's somewhere else."


(Charnoff) One of the film's most moving moments involves Margaret, who sits on a couch with her nine-year-old daughter, talking about how heroin has damaged their lives.

(Daughter) "This is my dad, and he was a gentleman. He just probably turned 42. He was 43 when he died, last year, September 18."
(Margaret) "Ed took twenty-four #10 methadones in one day and he overdosed and died."
(Daughter) "I was afraid of my mom dying and my dad dying, before my dad died. And then my dad died, and now I'm wicked scared if she goes back on the drugs she might die just like my dad."


(Charnoff) O'Brien says that a problem with combating heroin use has been the criminalization of addiction.

(O'Brien) "I think one of the things that does come across fairly clearly in the film is that there's not enough help for addicts in this state, that we need places for addicts to go to get help. If you look at where the funding is going, and where the money is going, its all going to jails and correctional centers. Of course we need jails. Fine. And we need law enforcement. But we need the chunk of the money going to prevention and to treatment."

(Charnoff) "Here Today" is currently on an eleven-town tour of Vermont. At each showing, there is a discussion afterward with many of "Here Today's" participants. For them, the film discussions are part of the healing process.

Margaret told the Burlington audience that her participation in the film has helped her keep clean now for seven months.

(Margaret) "I knew I had a problem, and I was pretty sure most of the people around me - I kind of did it, like, I ratted myself out so I couldn't deny it anymore. So, you know it's on film. So I can't say I don't have a problem. It's helped me tremendously."

(Charnoff) Ultimately, however, the purpose of the film is to put a spotlight on an often misunderstood subject. Nancy, who's family is profiled in "Here Today," describes the reaction of several high school students who had seen the movie.

(Nancy) "After everybody had left, they came up to us and they said, 'You know, this was really good. This is a good movie because it's not like a Just Say No attitude. This is the sort of movie and information that might really turn some kids around.' You know they expected like a health film, and they didn't get a health film."

(Charnoff) Bess O'Brien says that raising awareness about addiction is the first step in combating the heroin problem:

(O'Brien) "What I'm hoping this film does is, it brings those people that we see in newspapers to life. It gives them emotions, it gives them feelings, it shows us how much they're struggling. Until you can empathize with something out there beyond yourself, you're never going to really try to change it."

(Charnoff) For Vermont Public Radio, I'm Neal Charnoff.


Upcoming "Here Today" showtimes:

Barre Thursday, October 10, 7:00 p.m. at the Barre Opera House
Rutland Friday, October 11 at 7:00 p.m. at the Rutland Intermediate School
Bennington Saturday, October 12 at 7:00 p.m. at Mt. Anthony Union High School

For information call (802) 592-3190
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