On Sunday, September 27th at 10 p.m. EST/7 p.m. PST, Al Jazeera America will present “Heroin USA,” a documentary from award-winning journalist, Soledad O’Brien that looks at the “new face” of the growing heroin epidemic in suburban America. O’Brien reports, “the drug that was once an inner city problem is hitting suburban America, and hitting it hard.”
The documentary recounts the experience of three individuals living in the suburban areas surrounding Cincinnati, Ohio, which has recently become the center of the nation’s heroin epidemic. From 2010 to 2013, the number of people who died of heroin overdose in Ohio nearly tripled, while Kentucky experienced a near five-fold increase. Together they paint the “new face of the heroin epidemic: young, well-off and white.” Their stories of addiction reveal the web of lies, manipulation, theft and even prostitution that addicts engage in to fund their habits.
“Heroin USA” traces the origins of the epidemic in suburban America to the increased availability of and marketing for prescription opioids – such as Oxycontin and Vicodin – with sales quadrupling from 1999 to 2010. However, prescription painkillers also have become more regulated, making them harder to come by and more expensive. Dr. Andrew Kolodny, Chief Medical Officer of Phoenix House, a non-profit drug treatment organization, explains that a “$10 bag of heroin will do exactly what a $30 pill of oxycodone would do.” Heroin is the most addictive of all illegal drugs, and Dr. Kolodny explains that four out of five heroin users actually become addicted to prescription opioids first.
Sarah Kordenbrock from Covington, Kentucky was first prescribed Percocet – an opioid – by her doctor after suffering a knee injury at the age of 18. She enjoyed how the drug made her feel, and before long Sarah went from being the captain of her high school volleyball and softball teams to becoming addicted to heroin because “it got to the point where pain pills were too expensive.”
O’Brien spends time with Sarah and another young addict, Olivia DeLand, documenting the excruciating steps taken by the women and their families in an attempt to overcome addiction. Sarah describes her journey to become clean while Olivia continues to battle her addiction. The program also introduces viewers to Mike Heffron, once a promising golfer who grew up in an upper-middle class family, who explains how heroin had robbed him of his life and his future, and admits to knowing that “this drug will kill me eventually if I keep using.” Despite this, Heffron was unable to overcome his addiction, dying at the age of 34 from a heroin overdose.
Heroin addiction is a growing national problem, with the number of deaths from heroin overdose across the U.S. almost doubling between 2010 and 2012. Through the stories of these three individuals, “Heroin USA” sheds light on the new realities of the nation’s growing heroin crisis.