Painkiller: Inside the Opioid Crisis documentary screens in PG

Matt Embry
Matt Embry

BY BILL PHILLIPS

bill@pgdailynews.ca

A Prince George crowd got a close-up, emotional look at the opioid crisis last night during the screening of a new documentary Painkiller: Inside the Opioid Crisis.

Directed by award-winning filmmaker, Matthew Embry (Living Proof, Theo Fleury-Playing with Fire), the documentary takes an inside look at the opioid epidemic fueled by legal and illegal activity, exacerbated by well-intentioned drug policies and annihilated by fentanyl.

“The intent of the film is to make people aware about the crisis, but also show some hope,” Embry told the News.

The documentary is part of the TELUS Health Originals documentary series, a look at the public health emergency devastating North America through a new documentary. Embry followed three families who lost loved ones to opioid overdoses.

“It’s certainly an emotional film,” he said. “We followed three families to give a real human face to this crisis. We also interviewed front line workers as well as top experts in the field of addiction and recovery.”

Embry says the opioid crisis affects all areas of the country and not just the ‘downtown’ areas that often get the attention.

“This is affecting all parts of our society, no matter your gender, your socioeconomic status, your ethnicity,” he said. “It’s on the streets and the suburbs. People need to be aware of this. In the documentary we’re really trying to challenge the stigma of addiction.”

He said the documentary highlights the fact that addicts are sick and they need help.

“It’s not that they don’t have willpower or they’re not strong enough,” he said. “It’s just likely there’s underlying causes of pain.”

In 2017, there were nearly 4,000 opioid-related deaths in Canada. Between January and March 2018 alone, 73 per cent of accidental apparent opioid-related deaths involved fentanyl, compared to 54 per cent in 2016 and 72 per cent in 2017.

The documentary was filmed primarily in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver and took close to 18 months to put together.

The two of the families followed in the documentary lost their sons to addiction. One of the mothers has now formed an organization called Moms Stop the Harm, with the goal of changing drug policy. The third story follows a woman who became addicted through prescription drugs. She overdoses and suffered a traumatic brain injury because of the overdose and is now in a long-term care facility.

“Not a lot of people know that when they come back from an overdose that they have significant brain trauma,” Embry said.

The documentary was challenging for Embry and his crew as the the subject matter can be raw and emotional.

“These are very traumatic stories to to listen to and we develop relationships with these people,” he said. “Our experience is nowhere near as tragic as the people who suffer this, but we’re good as a team and offer counselling services for those who need it. But it’s really about harnessing those emotions to affect change … harnessing that sadness and fear to push things forward.”

That will be aided by TELUS, which is hoping the documentary will be seen by a large audience.

It is available on YouTube and on the TELUS Optik TV Healthy Living Network on channel 346 in western Canada.

To help fight the opioid crisis, TELUS will donate $5 for every view of the documentary, up to $50,000, to organizations providing critical care to those impacted, such as TELUS Health for Good, its mobile health clinics providing primary healthcare to over 30,000 homeless Canadians.