March 30. 2017 2:39AM

Hope after Heroin

Local filmmaker finds hope for heroin addicts in 'The Heroin Effect'

Lisa Martineau


As the spotlight continues to fall on New Hampshire's heroin crisis, a New Hampshire filmmaker, Michael Venn, aimed his camera on it over a two year period. What he learned would change his perception about addicts. And he learned that there's hope. Venn was inspired to do the film when he was walking his dog one day and passed a newsstand. On the front page of every paper was a story about the rise in opiate addiction. Ironically, even as this was being written a news app popped up with a new headline, "Heroin use spikes five-fold in the U.S."

The documentary film, titled "The Heroin Effect," follows several heroin addicts in various stages of addiction and focuses on those addicts who made it out alive and are now thriving in sobriety. The film will be screened tonight at the Music Hall in Portsmouth.

In the film, we see a familiar face in an interview with actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Hoffman died of an overdose in 2014. When he talks about doing drugs, his eyes light up and a smile creeps across his face as if he knows something we don't. The reality behind that smile and the nervous laugh that followed, would take the award-winning actor to his grave, leaving his audience with one final image - an ugly one - that of a man dead in a bathroom with a syringe in his arm. 

We meet Zach who has been clean for two months and Heather who was recently released from prison, where most addicts are sent instead of treatment.

We watch Daniel nodding off as Aerosmith plays on the radio in his car. In another clip, Daniel says, "I'm sure you can tell when I've taken it, just how kind of spaced out I am. And that's what I like about it is that it's a downer and you take it and you just - all your problems are still there but they just don't matter anymore."

We are introduced to Sandi Coyle as she speaks at the Community Forum on Substance Abuse. Sandi, who had been arrested for possession of heroin at one time, is opening Safe Harbor Recovery Center in Portsmouth. While speaking at the ribbon cutting for the grand opening, Sandi is certain that those in the recovery community are going to change the headlines. "We are going to start making the solution bigger than the problem," she said. 

There's also Eric, who survived five overdoses and, after recovery, opened a number of treatment facilities. Speaking on the Morning Buzz radio station the subject of Narcan came up. Eric said that he had been revived by Narcan and had even been on life support at one point. "So you never know how that road is going to end up for someone."

The film is a survival story and a story about redemption. It's about hope in the face of adversity. Its message is clear: There are opportunities for recovering addicts. There is a future, and it can be a meaningful one. There really is hope. 

Johann Hari, author of "Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs," tells us that we've been doing it all wrong. "For a hundred years we've been singing War songs about drug addicts. We should have been singing love songs to them all along. It's the only thing that works."

At the conclusion of the film, the credits roll on a chilling reality as the faces of people who have been lost to addiction appear on the right. They are sisters and brothers, friends, husbands and wives, children, mothers and fathers. They are members of a community and a part of our society. Their faces are a grim reminder that 144 people die from heroin and other opioid overdoses in the United States. Every. Single. Day.

Note: Tonight's screening at the Music Hall in Portsmouth is sold out but another date will be added. We will post that information here as soon as a date is announced.