Via Mother Jones:
Heroin(e), the Netflix short documentary released Tuesday, begins and ends with blaring sirens as fire chief Jan Rader responds to yet another overdose in Huntington, West Virginia. The town has been called the “overdose capital of America,” and for good reason: Every resident, it seems, is affected by the ravages of opioids, from the gas station employees who keep ringing up customers as first responders revive an overdose victim in the checkout line, to the homeless drug users encamped by the river, to the church shelter employees urging users to come in for the night.
Despite the grave subject matter, the film, a collaboration with the Center for Investigative Reporting, is refreshingly hopeful as it tracks the work of three women on the front lines of the crisis. There’s Rader, an effusive nurse and firefighter who became the state’s first female fire chief earlier this year. There’s Judge Patricia Keller, who presides over the town’s drug court—the largest in the state. And there’s Necia Freeman, a resident who’s taken to driving around the town at night, helping provide food and shelter for sex workers who are addicted to drugs.
For Elaine McMillon Sheldon, the 29-year-old Peabody award-winning director and West Virginia native, the issue is personal. “I’ve lost friends. I have friends and classmates that are in prison, in recovery, in rehab, still addicted,” she says. “It’s just an issue I couldn’t ignore any longer.”
I spoke with Sheldon about the challenges of documenting such a stigmatized issue, the film’s political context, and how she hopes to change viewers’ preconceptions about the most deadly drug epidemic in the nation’s history.
Mother Jones: The film highlights the work of Jan Rader. Tell me a little more about it.