Premieres Monday, May 1 at 10 PM ET/PT exclusively on HBO
With nearly a hundred Americans dying everyday from opioid overdoses, the U.S. currently faces the worst drug epidemic in its history. More people die from opioid overdoses annually in the U.S. than from car accidents or gun homicides, a number that has quadrupled since 1999.
From journalist Perri Peltz (HBO’s “Risky Drinking”), the documentary tells devastating personal stories of families who have lost a loved one to an opioid overdose, all of them the result of addictions that started with doctors’ prescriptions of dangerous painkillers such as OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet. Also featuring harrowing pictures and cellphone videos, the documentary puts a human face on the epidemic of U.S. opioid addiction and its grave consequences.
“WARNING: THIS DRUG MAY KILL YOU” takes an unflinching look at ordinary people whose lives turned on a dime after minor and major ailments led to the over-prescription of highly addictive opioids, which are often the gateway to heroin. The film shines a light on the role the pharmaceutical industry and the medical establishment have played in the alarming rise of opioid prescriptions.
A companion website on HBO.com will offer a rich resource experience with information on recovery options, including medication-assisted treatment, and on where viewers can find help in their communities.
Subjects featured in “WARNING: THIS DRUG MAY KILL YOU” include: a mother whose addiction took hold after a painful birth; a young man saved from an overdose once, only to succumb to another later that day; a young woman prescribed painkillers when injured by a fall, who eventually turned to heroin; and a young mother and struggling addict whose sister overdosed.
Among the segments:
A mother of three, Wynne was prescribed opioids after a painful C-section. Ex-husband Britt remembers that as she became addicted, “Doctors were just throwing pills at her [and] she became a totally different person.” In 2008, with Wynne in her tenth rehab facility, Britt filed for divorce. Though Wynne, who shared custody of her children, made an effort to be in their lives and appeared to be getting better, a bout with kidney stones found her leaving the hospital flush with pain meds. Her teen sons found her in bed the next morning, an overdose victim.
Teenager Brendan was prescribed opioids following surgery to remove a cyst; four years later, addiction claimed his life. His parents, Brian and Gail, had supported his efforts to get clean. Fresh out of rehab, however, Brendan overdosed, and was revived by Narcan – a drug that can reverse heroin overdose, but often leaves addicts more vulnerable. Unaware of the withdrawal symptoms he was facing, Brian and Gail were devastated to find their son collapsed in his bedroom, having overdosed again, this time fatally.
David and his wife, Judy, are still reeling a year after the loss of their daughter Georgia to an overdose. Her story is all too common: After suffering a back injury, Georgia was prescribed heavy painkillers, and soon graduated to heroin. On Thanksgiving, David found Georgia comatose in the living room, with a syringe nearby.
Suffering from kidney stones at age 16, Stephany was treated with Dilaudid, Oxycontin and Vicodin. She ended up sharing the pills with her older sister, Ashley, and when their supply was abruptly cut off, both turned to heroin. Stephany vowed to get clean after Ashley fatally overdosed, but the process has been difficult. With her mother’s support, Stephany enters “A Way Out,” a 30-day state-sponsored rehab program involving local police departments.
At the root of this epidemic are major pharmaceutical companies such as Purdue Pharma, which launched an aggressive campaign in 1996 to promote widespread use of opioid pain meds, claiming they were not addictive and were safe for longterm use. In 2007, Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty to lying about the risk of addiction to OxyContin, paying one of the largest pharmaceutical settlements in U.S. history. Yet OxyContin and other opioids remain a multi-billion-dollar industry, with more than 250 million prescriptions written every year.