5 things to know about the Oscar-nominated doc 'Heroin(e)'
The Best Documentary Short Subject nominee follows three women who are fighting the opioid epidemic in Huntington, West Virginia
By Shelbie Watts, EMS1 Editorial Assistant
A Netflix documentary that follows three women as they fight the opioid epidemic in Huntington, West Virginia is gaining national attention after receiving an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Short Subject.
“Heroin(e)” is a 39-minute film that follows three women who have taken different approaches to battling the opioid epidemic ravaging their town. They come from different paths in life – a fire chief, a judge and a street missionary – but they have one thing in common: They aren’t giving up on their town.
Here is what you should know about the Oscar-nominated documentary.
1. 'The overdose capital of the world’
The city of Huntington, West Virginia has been given several titles over the years, such as America’s unhealthiest city in 2008 by the CDC, the most obese city in the United States by a study in 2014 and the current overdose capital of the world, according to “Heroin(e).”
The film notes that the city of around 49,000 residents experienced an opioid overdose rate that was 10 times the national average in 2015. There were 28 heroin overdoses within four hours on Aug. 15, 2016, but officials said the daily average usually hangs around five to seven.
2. A fire chief
Huntington Fire Chief Jan Rader is on the front lines of the epidemic and thinks society as a whole needs to change their outlook on opioid addicts.
“We don’t treat people poorly for eating a whole cake, and having a diabetic emergency because of it, so why are we treating people poorly who relapsed and overdosed?” Chief Rader told Variety.com “I don’t care if I save somebody 50 times, that’s 50 chances to get into long-term recovery.”
Director Elaine McMillion Sheldon said in an interview that during filming, Chief Rader had a way of keeping calm and handling otherwise stressful situations.
“I just would keep focused on her because she would keep me chilled out a bit. There were some intense moments and if I focused on the other things going around it would be a little bit too much for me, but she just goes into an emergency and fixes things.”
3. A judge
Cabell County Family Court Judge Patricia Keller uses a tough but caring approach when addressing low-level drug offenders through the Adult Drug Court she established in 2009. Based on the documentary, it’s clear that Judge Keller is more focused on rehabilitation than punishment.
Judge Keller’s court includes addicts who help each other stay sober, cheering those on who have taken steps toward recovery.
“You know, coming from the life that I’ve lived, I’d have never thought that I’d say this,” a man says to Judge Keller while graduating from drug court in the documentary. “But I truly believe I made a friend in you, for life, a public official.”
4. A realtor
Necia Freeman, a Huntington realtor, takes to the streets to find female addicts who have turned to prostitution and offers them a little bit of hope.
Freeman runs Brown Bag Ministry as a way to reach out to the women who are selling sex for drugs. She ventures out once a week in her minivan to speak with the women and give them bags of food and hygiene products.
She also urges them to find shelter for the night, and is part of the celebratory crowd when they graduate from Judge Keller’s drug court.
5. A hopeful city
Residents of Huntington say that the release of “Heroin(e)” has given them hope that maybe the drug abuse stigma that casts a dark shadow on the town can soon be lifted so that people can heal.
Resident Jana Stoner said the story portrayed by Chief Rader, Judge Keller and Freeman is one of compassion.
"They are heroes and they are combatting the epidemic in incredible ways, they have compassion, they have heart, and that is the real story of Huntington, and that is the real story of Huntington; that there are people working together to make a united impact in this community,” she said.
Resident Wesley Wright thinks the publicity will give viewers the chance to see how much Huntington is trying to move on, as long as they take the time to watch.
"Just having a documentary on Netflix in the first place is going to put a negative stigma on Huntington, unless you actually watch it. And once you watch it, you realize how much we're trying to develop as a city and get past this.”
Tune into the 90th Academy Awards March 4 to see if “Heroin(e)” goes home with the golden statue. You might even get a glimpse of the three women themselves, as Netflix is sending them all to the ceremony, free of charge.