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PopPolitics: ‘Heroin(e)’ Shows What’s Missing in Addressing Opioid Epidemic (Listen)

WASHINGTON — The new Netflix documentary “Heroin(e)” follows three women as they try to address the opioid epidemic in their own community of Huntington, W. Va.

The city has been dubbed the overdose capital of America, as over the past five years the problem “has kind of snowballed,” Jan Rader, the Huntington fire chief, tells Variety‘s “PopPolitics” on SiriusXM.

“We knew we had to do something,” Rader said.

She is one of the women profiled in the film, along with Drug Court Judge Patricia Keller and Necia Freeman, a realtor who runs a ministry for sex workers. All three women have deployed humane approaches to addressing the epidemic that focus on not giving up on those in the throes of heroine addiction. The film also features the stories of addicts who “graduate” from Keller’s court, in which she applies a mixture of strict instruction and compassion.

Elaine McMillion Sheldon, the director of the movie, said that in starting out, she wasn’t aware of “how our war on drugs is potentially starting to change, with people having more empathy. This is a new conversation to care about, to not just lock up someone and call him a criminal but to actually care about this thing they are suffering from.”

Rader said that emergency personnel respond to about five overdoses a day. The Huntington fire department this year has responded to 1,204 overdoses, a high figure for a city of 49,000. There have been about 1,800 county-wide.

“We don’t treat people poorly for eating a whole cake, and having a diabetic emergency because of it, so why are we treating people poorly who relapsed and overdosed?” Rader says. “It just doesn’t make sense. We as a society need to change the way we look at this. We need to lift people up. Kindness has fallen by the wayside.”

President Trump has declared the opioid crisis to be a national emergency, but Rader says that it remains to be seen whether that will translate into funding for such things as drug courts in other communities.

Listen here, starting at the 39:15 mark.

PopPolitics,” hosted by Variety’s Ted Johnson, airs from 2-3 p.m. ET/11 a.m.-noon PT on SiriusXM’s political channel POTUS. 

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