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ASU and Arizona PBS’s new project sheds light on the state’s deadly heroin problem

Nationwide, the rise of prescription drug use has led to an increase in harder substances, most notably heroin, as abusers turn to the deadly drug when prescription pills, or the funds to buy them, run out. Since one of the first states heroin reaches in the U.S. from the southwest border is Arizona, the state has seen a massive increase in heroin use and overdoses in the past year.

A project by Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and Arizona PBS recently covered the state’s heroin problem in the short film “HOOKED: Tracking Heroin’s Hold on Arizona.” The school-wide project was the work of nearly 100 student journalists as well as two dozen faculty and Arizona PBS staff members. The Cronkite School and Arizona PBS partnership also has a website dedicated to the full project on the state’s heroin problem.

The documentary depicts the rise in heroin and the effects on the state, from law enforcement working to stop users and track the origins of the drug, to heroin addicts struggling to stay sober.

While “HOOKED” covers the issue in Arizona, the film stresses the growing use of heroin outside the state as well. A Huffington Post story, covered by the Newshour earlier this year  also spoke of the rise in heroin use in Kentucky in the past few years and the discussions surrounding how to treat addicts. Ryan Grim, editor of the story, spoke with Hari Sreenivasan about the debates around suboxone, a drug used to treat opiate addiction and revive someone from an overdose.

“HOOKED,” and the addicts profiled in the film, show fighting the addiction is near-impossible regardless of the approach.

“I seriously don’t know how many times I’ve done this,” Dezarae, a heroin user from Chandler, a city in Arizona, said as she threw out her syringes and other tools. In the past, she or her boyfriend would dig them back out of the dumpster later.

“I knew I didn’t want to live using anymore, but I also didn’t know how to live sober,” Dara from Phoenix, Arizona said in the video. “For me I had to hit rock bottom. I overdosed one time, and they put me in the bathtub and ran cold water over me. And when I came back around, I remembering hearing a guy say ‘do we get the shovel or what?’”

“HOOKED” has clearly resonated in the Arizona community. The film, released on Tuesday, was shown on all 33 broadcast TV stations in Arizona and aired on most of the state’s radio stations. Almost a half-million households watched the broadcast, about 1 million Arizonans. That’s twice the viewership of a typical week’s most popular TV program. That same night, a phone bank at Arizona PBS took 438 calls over three and a half hours, directing people to appropriate services.