(Editor’s Note: This is Part 2 of reporter Katie Martin’s review of Bess O’Brien’s documentary “The Hungry Heart” and Beth Macy’s book “Dopesick.” The first part covered the clear path from opiate abuse to the heroin epidemic as well as the efforts of one Vermont doctor, Dr. Fred Holmes, to help those addicted to and abusing drugs.)
One of the most compelling stories of the documentary revolved around a man named Dustin, who worked on his family’s dairy farm. Dustin started using OxyContin in high school and from there formed a habit. He began stealing from his family. At one point he stole $20,000 worth of farming tools. His mother was also interviewed and said that addicts are the best liars that a person will ever meet.
“No matter what I asked him, he always made me believe him. Even though deep down inside of my heart I knew it wasn’t true, but he always made me believe him because you’re looking into that little boy’s eyes that’s still your little boy. … I told him that I hated him, that he was a junkie. I threw a shovel. I wanted to hurt him like he hurt me. I’ll never forgive myself for what I said to him that day. I felt like I was nothing. I have lived my whole life for my children and I will till I die,” said Dustin’s mother.
Dustin was able to overcome his addiction like most of those interviewed in the documentary, but not before the battle of getting his life back on track and saying, “Look into your family history, and do it well, and I guarantee you that you have someone in your family that has this issue too.”
Others, however, did not have a family to lean on. Dr. Holmes was able to be that figure to his patients in their time of need.
“It’s that relationship piece; it’s treating them with the respect they deserve and having a conversation with them around what their needs are – that is something many of these kids have never experienced in the past,” said Holmes.
Through the candid black-and-white footage, another scene takes viewers to a graveyard in the winter. A lone woman smoking a cigarette stands over a stone; she speaks about her older brother who died at the age of 25, while she was 14.
“I knew it was going to kill him. I just didn’t know when. I feared for it every day. ... He died on Easter Sunday. I’ll never forget that day. He didn’t get to meet my son and that’s what hurts me the most. I just wish I could have done something more. The last thing I ever wanted was to lose him; he was really the only person who understood me, and at the time I really felt like he was the only one that cared. So it was like I lost my whole life when I lost him. That’s why I used to get high. I didn’t want to feel that anymore. I didn’t want to hurt anymore.”
In another scene the woman talks about her rock bottom, the moment she made the decision to get clean. As she lay in her hospital bed her young nephew visits and asks her to quit for him. She had flashbacks to herself asking her brother to do that same thing and decided she didn’t want that life for herself.
Dr. Holmes treated some of his struggling patients for a long time, some for their entire lifetime. Many of his younger patients, some still in high school or those who chose not to finish their education, started their habit at a young age. Some interviewees started abusing drugs as young as 12. As far as upbringing, some were bounced around in the foster system; one said they had been in 22 foster homes in their lifetime, noting that no one wanted them. Others who were also young were homeless, with no jobs to support themselves.
After interviewing and researching the pharma companies’ involvement with court cases and expenditures, the book “Dopesick,” by Beth Macy, makes a compelling argument that in a game of prescription drugs and money, rural communities stand no chance to win.
After completing “Dopesick,” I’d learned a lot about how opiates and heroin can strike small communities like ours. Interviews that Macy did also included some inside prisons where the major drug distributers were put away after drug busts that had led to so many deaths of young adults in the mining towns of Appalachia. One thing that resonated with me is the fact that in the interview, the individual said it doesn’t matter if he gets put away; it will continue. There will be others who take his place in the chain. The drug highway will be up and running after a short period.