The risks for the use and abuse of prescription painkillers, also known as opioids and opiates, are just beginning to come to light thanks to researchers, as well as documentary producers. While researchers handle the scientific and statistical evidence for or against long-term opiate use, many people behind the camera are turning to personal stories that reflect how the use of these drugs have affected individuals and communities. As discussed previously, oxycodone–a semi-synthetic opiate–is now responsible for more drug-related deaths in Clark County than any other class of drug. The following documentaries aim to show how these class of drugs have affected them in their communities.


HBO’s full-length documentary on all aspects of addiction–from the ER to brain imaging to the insurance agencies–also turns to look at prescription painkillers in its “Opiate Addiction: A New Medication” piece. In it, the producers uncover personal stories of those who are addicted to painkillers and follows them as they try to kick their habit with replacement therapies. The documentary follows one couple as they try Suboxone, an opiate blocker, for their addiction and follows up with them after six months to see if there’s any difference in their usage. 

Behind the Orange Curtain by Natalie Costa and Brent Huff

Natalie Costa first experienced the effects of prescription drug abuse while attending a funeral with her daughter for a fellow high school student who had overdosed from prescription drugs. Devastated by the knowledge of this, Costa decided to create a documentary that would actually show how and where prescription drugs were being used in Orange Country, CA. What she found was a community hit by drugs in a way that did not discriminate between social class or age. As she writes, “The film’s goal is awareness and a call to action.” By profiling the families destroyed by these overdoses, as well as trying to answer the questions surrounding their use by interviewing physicians, interventionists, and families, Costa and Huff aim to give a real look at prescription opiate use in one community.

Oxyana by Sean Dunne  

One documentary director took to to help him fund a piece that would highlight the stories of people in Oceana, West Virginia. Oceana is a small Appalachian town built on coal mining originally that Dunne calls the center of the Oxycontin epidemic now. With many deaths from abuse–one physician in the film claims up to one person a day–and more lives ruined from its use, Dunne aims to expose a community crippled by prescription painkillers. It’s a dark, raw look at one town made more poignant with its intense focus.

You can view trailers for all of these documentaries online and ADDICTION and Behind the Orange Curtain are free to watch online as well. With these three pieces, we can all gain a better understanding and put a face to the prescription opiate abuse problem.

Have you seen any of these documentaries? Can you recommend any others that deal with the effects of opiates? 

Image by Jon Gos via Flickr



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