This past month, a powerful special report, “Heroin USA,” aired on the Al Jazeera network. Produced by award-winning journalist Soledad O’Brien, the piece offers a very moving view of the lives and struggles of three heroin users from the suburbs of Cincinnati. Recently Phoenix House caught up with O’Brien and asked her to reflect on “Heroin USA” and what she’d like viewers to take away from the report.
PH: In producing “Heroin, USA,” you focused on “the new face of heroin addiction” with three very intimate portrayals. What did you want to accomplish with this approach?
SO: Every well-told story is told through the pain and struggles of individuals that viewers can identify with. The numbers around the heroin epidemic are overwhelming. We wanted to bring home not only the statistics, but the pain of these individuals who are struggling with addiction, and of their family members who are trying to figure out the best way to support them.
PH: What were the biggest insights you gained from doing the special report?
SO: Dr. Kolodny’s insights were breathtaking. The numbers of people affected by this epidemic are massive, and it seems every town is vulnerable to the scourge of heroin. I think there is tremendous stigma attached to addiction and addicts, and it was clear in our reporting that hiding from the problem and being ashamed of addiction is not helpful. Not for the individual, and certainly not for society in general.
PH: What did you learn about the heroin epidemic that most surprised you?
SO: I think the financial impact was probably the biggest surprise for me–the degree to which relatively small municipalities are dealing with a massive influx of emergencies and overdoses; the high cost of sending addicts to rehab two, three, five, ten times.
PH: How did doing the documentary impact you on a personal level?
SO: I think talking to Mike Heffron’s family was the hardest. We wanted to know who he was before addiction overtook his life. It was clear it was very painful for the family to even talk about it. It was brutally painful for them. And I hope by doing this story, we’ve been able to provide a service to them. We know they want to share this with schools and students and talk about Mike and discuss how dangerous using prescription drugs and trying heroin can be.
PH: What do you want most viewers, including policymakers and/or family members of people struggling with substance abuse disorders to take away from watching “Heroin USA”?
SO: I want them to see the human beings behind these terrible statistics. I want everyone to understand that these are people who are struggling, who sometimes do terrible things, and who often, ultimately, want to become normal through their drug use. I hope policy makers understand the massive impact that they’ve had, not just on public health, but on the finances of family members who are willing to do anything to save a loved one.Back to Index