A documentary: Heroin(e) (2017)
List Progress: 7/12
My knowledge of the town of Huntington, West Virginia began and ended with the fact that it is where the McElroy brothers grew up. But the 2017 short documentary Heroin(e) paints a complex and painful picture of this small town. Labelled the “overdose capital of America”, Huntington experiences opioid overdoses at ten times the national average, and heroin use has changed the entire landscape of the town. The documentary, by Elaine McMillion Sheldon, follows three women who are active in dealing with the crisis: a judge in drug court, a fire chief, and a street minister. Rather than go for hard statistics, the film follows the emotional journey of the three and how they try to help the addicts of Huntington. It is impactful in going for the heart, but I found myself wishing for a few more facts along the way.
The fire chief is the lynchpin of the documentary, and provides the most context about Huntington and what it looks like to be the person responding to overdoses multiple times a day, getting people breathing again with naloxone and then moving onto the next call. The street minister is the most informal worker, largely outside the system, and she spends her nights driving around, giving food and religious tracts to prostitutes and addicts, as well as helping them coordinate with various shelters and rehab centers. They talk about the struggle of having to help the same people over and over again, but that it is worth it for the few who manage to get clean and build a healthier life.
The judge is the one that I had the most questions about and felt like I needed more information on. All we really get is that she runs a “drug court”, but it seems to be some sort of hybrid program of law enforcement and group therapy. She is guiding people through rehab programs and having them share their successes and setbacks with each other, but is also doing things like assigning people on parole to house arrest or to time back in jail. It is like if your therapist could send you to prison, which feels like a very easily warped system. Of what is shown in the documentary, her system seems to work for some people, but it would have benefitted from a lot more explanation, as it seemed fairly contradictory on the surface.
For a forty minute documentary, Heroin(e) gets to the heart of its message and has some very resonating moments. The fire chief talks with a recovered addict as they are doing community outreach, and he realizes that this will be his first year in Huntington when he is not part of the overdose statistics. The quiet realization and pride on his face at that moment makes the film, and illustrates why the documentary was made. Everyone in the whole film knows that it would be easier to give up on their community and themselves, but it is the hard-won moments that keep them fighting.
Would I Recommend It: Yes.