Ending America’s Opioid Crisis – Prescription for Change

My name is Ben, and I’m an addict.

♪♪ In my life, I’ve abused numerous drugs, including the painkillers OxyContin and Percocet, and I’m not alone.

Over two million Americans struggle with opioids, making this the worst epidemic of addiction in American history.

Anybody who’s grown up in America has known people who struggled with it, may have had some struggles of their own.

It’s time that we address this problem, and this documentary is about how.

♪♪ I’ve been clean for 15 months.

We’re all alive.

You know, that’s something to be grateful for.

(Ben)How can an addict get help? (woman) I came from where you’re at right now.

If you’re hungry, come on out.

(Ben)How can family and friends support us? (woman)She is a very kind soul.

She’s just trapped right now.

(Ben)And what should the government do.

(Barack Obama)We have to treat this not as a moral failing, but as a public-health problem that can be solved.

To bring about the end of an epidemic? ♪ My drug dealer was a doctor, doctor ♪ ♪ Tried to kill me for a dollar, dollar ♪ ♪ Doctor, doctor ♪ (rain pattering) ♪♪ I first got clean and soberin 2008.

I would love to sit in front of the camera and tell you that I wentto treatment in 2008 and that was the last time that I’ve put a druginto my body, and that’s just not the case.

You know, I’ve had numerous relapses and will always struggle with addiction.

This is a lifelong disease.

I need to work at this thing every single day, and that’s the only way thatI will potentially continue to live it one day at a time.

How you been? Good.

How are you? I’m good.

Waking up a little bit.

It’s super important to have a support group.

How you doing? Max.

Nice to meet you.


It’s extremely important for me to get to a meeting.

Okay, welcome, everybody.

I invite each of us to bring our truth here to benefit others, right? So, who would like to launch us on this shared journey? I’m Justin.

I’m an addict.


I broke my wrist, and then it caused me to get my first prescriptionof Vicodin.

And I’d heard about people getting hooked, and I never thought it would happen to me.

I was convincing myself it wasn’t a problem.

I found outthat I was full of (bleep).

(woman)Thank you, Justin.

So glad you’re here.

My name’s Derek.

You know, I graduated high school, started trainingin MMA.

I got injured, and Iran into an old friend, and he was already well into his addiction with OxyContin, and he introduced itto me.

Even withinthat few months, it grabbed a hold of mecompletely, and I just spiraledout of control.

(Ben)Painkillers, for me,were interesting because when I wasin high school, they weren’t really readily available, and over time,OxyContin got introduced.

I started using OxyContin and opiates at 17.

I was just a pothead.

You know what I mean? Ecstasy.

But then,when the opiates hit, um.

that’s where it(bleep) took place for me.

You know what I mean? (Ben)Kids that I grew up with, you know, I really lovedand respected, overdosed.

I remember in the fifth grade I came home, and I was just going throughmy mom’s medicine cabinet, and that’s when I started opiates.

Like, by the grace of God, like, I’m in this(bleep) seat today.

Because I’ve lost 11of my really close friends to this (bleep) disease.

We are living throughthe worst epidemic of addiction in American history.

And the drugs causing the most deaths? Legal prescriptions opioids like OxyContin, Percocet, and Vicodin.

How did so many of us get addicted to painkillers, and why are so many Americans dying from drug overdoses? To find out, you have to go back to the early ’90s.

Before that time, doctors generally consideredopioids dangerous, but in 1996,a company called Purdue Pharma released a new drug–OxyContin.

Purdue spent hundreds of millions of dollars to convince doctorsthat OxyContin was safe and not addictive.

Their marketing strategyworked.

Prescriptions for OxyContin skyrocketed.

But Purdue’s claim that OxyContin was safe and not addictive just wasn’t true.

As sales skyrocketed, so did addiction, overdoses,and death.

Users also foundthat they built up a tolerance to OxyContin and otherprescription opioids.

And that’s where heroin comes in.

Heroin is an opioidlike OxyContin, so lots of people who built up a tolerance to prescriptionpainkillers moved on to heroin.

And today, more Americans are addicted to heroin and die from it than ever before.

I just wanted to say personally how much it means to me and to the recovery community that you are taking time out to talk about the diseaseof addiction.

The first time that I was ever introduced to opiates was through my mom’smedicine cabinet, through pharmaceutical drugs.


And it led me down a verylong trajectory of pain to the point that I didn’teven want to live anymore.


And I’m wondering,for you, have you had any personal relationship with addiction? I think that, you know, anybody who’s grown up in America has known people who struggled with it, may have had somestruggles of their own.

I had a lotof close friends who ended up havingto go through the recoveryprocess, but the reason that we’vebeen really focusing on this opioids issue is, this is an areawhere the incidence of people dyingfrom overdoses is actually spiking.

2014, we sawmore people die of drug overdosesthan die of car accidents.


And the majorityof those were opioids.

And part of the reason why I wanted to have this conversation is to send a message that for them to seek help is the strong thing to do.


My name is Lindsey,I’m an addict.


Um, I got a neck injury,you know, when I was 12, and a doctor prescribed Vicodin to me, and I was like, wow,I don’t feel anything.

And so, from that point on,I was like, I’m not taking Tylenol,I’m not taking ibuprofen, I only want Vicodin.

And after that, I was introduced to OxyContin.

And the first time that I did it, it was like my one true love.

Like, I hate to romanticize it, but that’s really honestly how I felt at the time.

You know, and I–I would do it until my nose was bleeding.

Then I got introduced to heroin.

I swear to GodI never would do it, I was never gonna be a junkie like that person, I was never gonna be like that guy, I was never gonna stealor rob or.

But I lost everything in a matter of four months, as soon as I tried dopefor the first time.

My job, custody of my kid.

And, uh, I didn’t wannabe like that anymore, ’cause I knew that wasn’t me,I was a good girl.

I went into detox April 8th, 2011, my clean dateis April 9th, 2011.

I celebrated five years clean on April 9th.

(applause) So, I just doveright in to service work, started a nonprofit in 2013called Hope Soldiers, which helps people who don’thave money or insurance.

I’ve been able to help my friends get clean and get into treatment.

And I’m grateful forevery opportunity that I have to do that.

And I’m grateful to be heretoday with all of you guys.

You guys mean a lot to me.

So, thank you.

(woman)Thank you, Lindsey.

♪♪ I wonder if that guy’s hungry.

Hey, guys.

You hungry? I got some sandwichesin the back of my car.

I’ve got sandwiches.




So, guys, we help people struggling to get into treatment for free.

My phone number’s on here if you need resources for treatment.

Can I give you a hug? Yeah.

I know it’s hardout here, I have five years cleanfrom heroin.

Have you kids? Yep.

You wanna see ’em again? Oh, yeah.

I can help you.

(Lindsey)It’s really important for addicts to know you’re not alone.


That you are a personworthy of love, honor, dignity, and respect.

You got more friends out here? Where they at? Are they in the woods? We are gonna headacross the street because there is a campback there where homeless people live.

Don’t feel weird about it, dude.

Like, I came from where you’re at right now.

So, I got some food for you if you’re hungry.

Come on out.

(man)I definitely didn’t wanna be a heroin addict.


You know, I don’t ever remember saying I’m gonna do heroin, ever.

Like, honestly,I feel like right now, I’m the biggest black sheep in my family, like.

Yeah, of course.

Not like the only, not the only, but it’s like like I said, I put myself there.

Would you be interested in going to, like, a transitional living treatment center? Can we come back and visit you more? Okay.

I’m gonna give you a hug, ’cause that’s what I do.



(Alaina)You guys stick together.

Stay together.

We will.


(Lindsey)We’re facing an epidemicin our country right now, and it’s going to takesome compassion to help those of us out therewho are feeling alone right now.

Love you.

Love you.

For me, when I was a teenager, I used drugs, I drank.

I pretty much triedwhatever was out there as a– but I was in Hawaii and it was a pretty relaxed place.

And I was lucky that I did not get addicted, except to cigarettes, which took me a long time to kick.


But it does seemas if the speed with which youcan get hooked on opioid-based medicines is fierce.

And I don’t know whether that was an experience that you had as well.

I was on Percocet.

Mm-hmm? All of a sudden,I’m doing it every day to the point whereI had this dependency.

And I remember the guythat I was getting them from didn’t have any more,and he said, “But I have this other thing,it’s called OxyContin.

” Within a week,I was isolated in my room doing this drug just to.

To stay alive, in a way.

Well, I– I tell you,we’ve now had conversations with high school athletes.


Who, you know,hurt a knee, and they’re taking a fewof these painkillers, and next thing you know,they’re going through just what you went through and doing thingsthat they would never believe they were capable of doing in order to get more of those drugs.

(Franchesca)Addiction is not a choice.

That’s especially true for opioids.

To understand why,you have to look at the way they work in the brain.

Your body actually produces natural opioids.

When you’re hurt, they attach to the receptors in your brain and reduce your pain.

But natural opioids only workon low levels of pain.

Prescriptions opioids work basically the same way, but they’re more powerful,so they help you deal with major pain.

But they’re increased power comes with a big downside.

Prescription opioids also causea massive release of dopamine, a chemical that helpsyour brain recognize things you need for basic survival, like food or water.

So, heavy use of opioids can actually train your brain into thinking you need them just to survive.

That explains whyso many opioid-addicted people seem like they’ll do anythingto get them.

The good news though, is that our brains can bounce back.

When the addicted persongoes into long-term recovery, the brain slowly stops seeingopioids as something needed for survival,and an addicted person can slowly begin to live a lifethat’s not dictated by opioids.

Um, hi, I’m Alaina,I’m a heroin addict.

(group)Hi, Alaina.

This is my first time sharing at a meeting.

And I’m still, like,struggling through this.

I started.

smoking heroin, like, my summer of my senior year.

I went like a year smoking heroin, like every day, I never went a day without it.

I’d be praying to God, like, “Please, God, like, help me,I will never do this again.

” But then, there I amthe next day doing it again.

I’m, like,ready to be clean and give up heroin because.

it’s just not the lifeI wanna live anymore.

And you’ve, like, really, like, you’re like a really– like, a blessing in my life,I wouldn’t– I probably wouldn’t be alive without you.


(woman)You’re in the right place.


I love you.

(Alaina)I feel like every timeI would, like, get clean before, it’d be for, like, my momor, like, everyone else.

But this time,it’s like for me.

Gotta go to the bathroom.

Mm, no.

I just feel, like,cold and hot.

(vomiting) (water running) (Lindsey)I don’t know what’sgoing on with you, and I need to make surethat you’re okay.

‘Cause if you’re,like, overly dehydrated or something like thatand it’s coming out both ends, we gotta get you inand at least get some fluids.

I’m gonna call your mom, okay? Um.

I wanna take herto the ER, because, uh, she took something.

I just need your armsover my neck.

Tell me if you feel sick, okay? Mm-hmm.

(Lindsey)She does not wanna belike this anymore at all.

She’s got a lot of greatness inside of her.

She is a very kind soul, and she’s just trapped right now.

I’d like to help herget into treatment again, because I think that if shecontinues to use, that she will die.

(Ben)It wasn’t till I finally went to treatment that I got the helpthat I needed.

But if it wasn’tfor my parents being able to helpme out with treatment, and afford this expensive rehab facility.


Then I wouldn’t be hereright now talking to you.

You know, so many peoplearound the country, when they’re readyto try it, they gotta waitthree months, six months.


A year, to get into a facility.

To get intoa detox facility.

Well, we’ve got to createan environment in which when–when folks are ready, that it’s there, and you gotta havea situation in which if you don’t succeed the first time, that there’s follow-up.

And this is especially true in underserved communities, rural communities.

You know, sometimes,if somebody’s gotta drive two hours or three hoursto the closest rehab center, they’re gonna losethe motivation.

You know, we’ve gotta be able to be there for people as they’re trying to fight back against this.

Here’s what we knowabout drug treatment.

First, addiction is treatable.

There are 23 million people in recovery right now who are living proof.

Second, there’s no one-size fits all treatment.

Some people might need medication, like Suboxone, or Vivitrolor Methadone.

And most people need treatment for other medical or psychological issues at the same time.

Third, treatment hasto be long-term.

Studies show that people who getyears of follow-up support are much more likelyto maintain their recovery.

Fourth, treatment works best when it’s available as soon as someone says they need it.

But here’s the problem.

Only one out of ten people who have an addiction get the treatment they need.

People who do want treatmentface roadblocks like waiting time.

And about one-third of the people who need drug treatmenthave no health insurance and no way to afford it.

And very fewtreatment programs use up-to-date addictionscience and medicine.

But thanks to the hard workof the recovery community and advocates, we’re startingto fix those problems.

Because of government action,the number of people without insurance is dropping.

More treatment programsare catching up to current addiction science and medicine.

Treatment is becomingmore available, but we’ve got to keeppushing for change until everyone with an addiction has immediate access to quality, affordable care without shameand without barriers.

That’s the goal.

Hey, are you gonnabe okay to walk? Mm-hmm.

You’re gonna be okay.

You wanna keepyour sweatpants on, honey? You wanna sleep for a bit? You want that?I’ll go get you a towel.

I’ll be right back.

This is what I foundunder her bathroom rug.

Right there.

You can smell it,it smells like.

Vinegar? Vinegar, yeah.

I’ve screamedand yelled at her, I’ve gotten so angry,I’ve cried.

I’ve pleaded and I’ve begged, and none of it matters.

Um, so abouta week and a half ago, I just told her, I said,”I just leave you in God’s hands,’cause that’s all I can do.

” Um.

and I told somebody that– at work, even today,that I’m sure I’m gonna– I’ll probably end up burying my daughter.

And it kills me.

Last time we hadan intervention and gave her no choice but to go to treatment.

And I think if she was underthat same amount of pressure, that she would go.

But I think that she needsto make a decision to do it without the pressure.


The real reason why people go to treatment is to get that 30 days,or that 28 days, ’cause it’s, um.

your brain only startshealing at 30 days.

I want her to know that it truly would probablybe the best thing for her.

It doesn’t matter how manytimes you go to treatment, it’s literallythe amount of time away, the amount of time thatyour brain has to heal.

Can I call Jeffat Foundations? Boo? Are you ready to say yesto treatment, honey? Well, no, you would haveto get a little bit stronger than when you–what you are right now.

Get over.

It just doesn’t seem,Alaina, like you can do this on your own.

What is it that’s making younot want to go, or that you arehesitant about? ‘Cause I honestly thought that you would be willing after this.

(Ben)When I actuallygot out of treatment, I didn’t know how to behonest about something that I was kinda shameful of.


And I think thatthere’s such a stigma around admitting, um,that you have a problem, that this addiction is real.

What do you think about that,and how can we get over this stigma that we have around treatment in America? Well, part of the reasonwhy I wanted to have this conversationis to send a message to folks who hopefully are watching this, and may be going throughtheir own struggles, and letting them know, look,it’s not a sign of weakness, because all of usat some stage can get ourselvesinto a– a dark place.

So, we really wanna encourage people to tell their stories about what it means to recover, and to show that, you know, folks can fight through this.

That makes all the difference in the world.

Let’s get your shoes in there.

(Alaina)I decided to go to rehab because I just want to get awayfrom the area and let my momhave some peace of mind, and like, focus on my ownrecovery.

Okay, well,that’s good for now.

(Kathy)I’m glad she’s going.

I think she really needs this.

Just to get out of the area,away from the drugs, all of her contacts, I thinkit’ll be very good for her, and hopefully give her more tools to fight the addiction.

(Lindsey)She’s going where she needs to go to get the helpthat she needs to get.

And so, if what she did is helping her to go where she needs to go, then who am I to judge? (Kathy)This has been.

A long, hard journey.

All right.


Good luck.

Thank you.

(Kathy)And all I can do really is– is be here to support her and encourage her, ’cause this is her journey.

I can’t do it for her,she has to do it for herself.

(Obama)The tragedy of how we’ve been dealing with the war on drugs generally over the last 30 years is that we haven’temphasized treatment, recovery, treated itas a public health problem, but have so often thought of this just as a criminal law problem and a “throw folksin jail” problem, that not only ruins the child’s life, but also is hugely expensive for society.

And we end up being penny-wise and pound-foolish.


The good news is that awarenessis starting to rise.


And I’ll be honest with you, and a part of what’s starting to change is that the opioids crisisis getting into communities that are suburban, that are relatively well-to-do, rural communities, white communities, and people’s kids who are being affected are folks who have a voice.

And they’re starting to recognize that generally how we’ve dealt with the reduction of addiction and drugs has been often times counterproductive, and that we need to shift a lot more resources into treatment.


But we’re still way short of where we need to be.


(Franchesca)America is slowly shifting from seeing addiction as a crimeto seeing it as a disease, and that’s great,but the uncomfortable truth is that a lot of that change isdue to who’s getting addicted.

Before the prescription painkiller epidemic, many Americans wrongly thought drugs like heroin were only a problem for communities of color.

So, about half of Americans supported tough on crime drug laws, and our government spent most of its drug budget on law enforcement,which disproportionately locks up people of color.

But today’s prescription painkiller epidemic is hitting white people hard.

White people and Native Americans have the highest rates of deathsfrom opioids.

And when white people are suffering from addiction, Americans are more likelyto see it as a disease instead of a crime.

So, now, two out of threeAmericans support treatment over punishment, and today,federal and state governments are slowly moving resources away from law enforcement and into treatment.

Regardless of the motivation,the shift from seeing addiction as a criminal justice issue to seeing it as a public health issue is a needed change.

For the millions of people locked up right now because of addiction,it’s a change that can’t come fast enough.

I’m Yvonna,and I’m an opioid addict.

I live up on a reservation.

It’s small, you know,like a small town.

I started using opioids right after I had my daughter.

I just was about to turn 18.

I lost my daughter a year after that.

I got clean from coming out of jail, and all I could sit there and think about, “Man, my kid’s, you know,her birthday is next month and I’m about to miss it.

” I just got her backthis last August.

I’ve been clean off heroin for 15 months.

(woman)Right on.

And she still thinks that Mom’s gonna leave.

I’m grateful to wake up in the morning to listen to my four-year-old daughter wake me up, “Mom, I want cereal,” you know? And it’s just like, it’s good to see you guys all here.

And that’s all I got.

(woman)I’m glad you’re here.

Thank you so much.

(Yvonna)I’ve lived on the reservation my whole life.

We carry a lot of traditions.

But we also havea really bad drug problem here.

I would say I was, like,12 when pills hit, and it just tooka toll on the tribe.

My dad was the very first person I ever smoked dope with.

I was using Vicodin, Percocet,but he did heroin as well.

He was like,”Man, Yvonna, I’m telling you, “you’re missing out, you know,it’s 20 times more better, 20 times more cheaper.

” And I was dumb, and I was gullible and I was dope sick,and I was withdrawing so bad, that I was like, all right, whatever.

And once I took that first hit,there was no going back.

You waking up yet? No? Okay.

I wanna make yeast rolls.

That could be next after I teach you how to make frybread.

And they pay for it,which I’m grateful for, because if it wasn’t for them,I don’t know where I’d be.

I don’t know howI’d stay sober.

I was thinking about just, like.

dang, just how far you’ve come.

Yeah, coping, man.

I don’t know how to cope yet.

No, you’re doing actuall ya really good job.

Good defense.

You do have a lot of people on your side.


(both laugh) Your daughter.

Oh, yeah.

She’ll always be on your side.

Oh, yeah.

She loves me unconditionally.


What does that feel like? That.

that is like,I will sacrifice.

my whole life for her.

We’re never fixed, we’re never done.

Yeah, exactly.

I’ve been clean for almost six years, and I’m still not fixed,I’m still not done.

That’s what I’m saying.

(Yvonna)Now that I’ve learned from my mistakes, I’ve grown to bea better person, because ain’t nobody perfect in this world, and I ain’t trying to be perfect.

I’m just tryingto be better for my kid.

All right, all right,have a fun day.

Yes, you too.

I’ll see you on Monday.

(both laughing) Love you! (Obama)This is not an area where the medical community has given as much thought to it as it should have.

In some communities, if you don’t have regular health care, you get a bum shoulder, instead of gettingit treated, you know, getting rehabon the shoulder, all you’ve got the money or the time to do is to get a bottle of pills.

It’s cheaper, yeah.

It’s cheaper.

And so, you have real pain that has to be managed, but the cureends up being worse than the ailment that you had.

Part of what we have been doing is working with medical schools and nursing schools to expand the curriculum around prescribing of drugs, and make sure that doctors and nurses understand and are working with people about the dangers, because we’ve gotta do something different.


(Franchesca)Right now, doctors write about 260 million prescriptions for opioids a year– enough to give every adult American a bottle of pills.

Most opioid prescription sare written by well-meaning doctors who just wanna help their patients with pain.

So, why do they write so many more prescriptions than necessary? For one thing, doctors rarely know if their patient hasa history of addiction, and they usually don’t knowif a patient already got a prescription for opioids from another doctor.

Some state governments are trying to fix those problems.

Some created online databases that doctors can check to see if their patient already hasan opioid prescription.

And the federal government recently released new guidelines for how doctors should prescribe opioids.

Those fixes might be working.

After 20 years of going straight up, the number of opioid prescriptions in America is finally starting to decline.

But we have to doour part too.

If I sprain my ankle,I shouldn’t go looking for a pill to fix it.

Sometimes pain is okay.

The tide of opioid over-prescribing is starting to turn, and we can all be partof the solution.

♪♪ (Alaina)In the beginning, you go through detox, which is an assessment.

They gave me Suboxoneso I could detox, so I didn’t go through any withdrawals.

And then, you move over to whereyou go to groups every hour, and everything’s just more fast-paced.

So, these are justmy morning medications that were prescribed to me when I was in rehab.

I have to take vitamin D because I was vitamin D deficient.

And then, gabapentin,which is for anxiety.


When I was there, I learned that this is a disease and it is–I am powerless over it.

It feels good to be, like,my own person again and be home and getting ready.

Because before I, um,went to rehab, I would not even, like–I know this sounds disgusting, but I didn’t shower for, like, weeks or get ready.

I just.

I was living,but not living, if that makes sense.

It just feels really good to kind of like have my old self back again.

And you’re gonna do the morning group, correct? Correct.

The first thing thatwe want to do is establish a support network for you.

So, that will be what the main focus is in getting you stable, so it gives youthe opportunity to just kinda get grounded and back into, um, the structure of life without having the 24/7 structure.


You can come right in here.

So, this will be your group room.

Boo! Hey! I missed you.

I missed you too.

I’m so glad you’re okay.

You look good.

Thank you, I feel good.

Your face is, like, full.

I know.

So is my butt.

Let me see it.

Look at it.


(both laugh) (Lindsey)Sometimes treatment doesn’t work their first time.

Sometimes it does, but I mean, for her, like, this was her third time, and.

maybe she just needed that, you know? How are you? (Lindsey)Sometimes it takes five to ten times of going to treatment before you realize that you’re really, really done.

Oh, that’s so good! I know.

That’s really good.


I’m honestly glad that I went through this, as horrible as it sounds.

I just think that it was a good, like, wake-up call for me, for my mom.

And I’m just glad that I have the support system that I do.

I’m proud of you.

Thanks, Mom.

I love you.

Love you.


I’m Ben, I’m an alcoholic, addict.

I used like everyone else did, I started with, you know, weed and alcohol, and graduated slowly into a plethora of different drugs.

But it lasted with me through fame and success and money and.

I’m just an addict.

The only way that I can stay sober is if I show up to meetings.

So, thanks for giving me the opportunity to show up today.


Thank you, Ben.

I would like to suggest that we end with the Serenity Prayer.

Would that be cool? It’s time that we end our opioid problem.

(all)Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdomto know the difference.

I do have hope.

I think that there is a shift right now in consciousness, just around the ideaof what addiction is.

Can I hug you?Okay.

And I don’t look at it as failing either.

I look at it as part of my process, part of my journey.

My drug dealer was a doctor, doctor ♪ ♪ Had the plug from Big Pharma, Pharma ♪ ♪ He said that he would heal me, heal me ♪ ♪ But he only gave me problems, problems ♪ ♪ My drug dealer was a doctor, doctor ♪ ♪ Had the plug from Big Pharma, Pharma ♪ ♪ I think he trying to kill me, kill me ♪ ♪ Tried to kill me for a dollar, dollar ♪ ♪ Ooh ♪♪.