“Chasing Heroin,” A Two-Hour Special, Premieres Feb. 23 on FRONTLINE
FRONTLINE Investigates America’s Heroin Crisis in a Searing Two-Hour Special
Premiering on PBS and online
Tuesday, February 23, 2016, at 9 p.m. ET / 8 p.m. CT
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America’s heroin and opioid crisis has been called the worst drug epidemic in U.S. history, with deaths from heroin and prescription opioid overdoses nearly quadrupling in 15 years.
Now, a two-hour FRONTLINE documentary, Chasing Heroin, goes inside the crisis and places it in a fresh and provocative light — telling individual stories of addiction, but also investigating how the heroin epidemic as we know it came to be, and exploring radical new approaches to fighting it that are sweeping the nation.
“We wanted to investigate how we reached this potentially transformative moment, and explore what happens when addiction is treated like a public health crisis, not a crime,” says award-winning producer Marcela Gaviria, who previously chronicled American drug policy in the acclaimed FRONTLINE series Drug Wars.
To make Chasing Heroin, Gaviria and her team, including correspondent Martin Smith, spent nearly a year tracing the lives of addicts like Kristina, who at age 21 is seven years into her heroin addiction and has been living on the streets for three; Johnny, who started using to cope with the breakup of his marriage; and Cari, a suburban mom who led a double life as a heroin dealer.
But in addition to these raw stories of addiction, Chasing Heroin paints a bigger picture about opioid abuse. The documentary investigates big pharma’s unprecedented push to popularize opioid painkillers like Oxycontin — which are described by one interviewee as “heroin prep school” — and downplay their highly addictive nature.
“There is no question that the marketing of Oxycontin was the most aggressive marketing of a narcotic drug ever undertaken by a pharmaceutical producer,” Barry Meier of The New York Times tells FRONTLINE.
With toughness and clarity, FRONTLINE investigates how pills and heroin began taking a toll in new communities, largely white and suburban — and how the national drug addiction conversation began to be reframed from a criminal justice issue, to a public health one.
“Well, you know, when things seep into the majority community, the nation pays a greater amount of attention than when it is confined to minority communities,” former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder tells FRONTLINE in a rare, in-depth interview.
Now, the country’s 40-year war on drugs is being reimagined — from the halls of the White House to the streets of Seattle, a city that has led the way in trying a new approach to the problem.
Chasing Heroin examines how, starting in 2011, Seattle began a program called Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, or LEAD, aimed at arresting fewer addicts and diverting them to counseling, social services or treatment instead.
As programs like LEAD take hold in cities across the country, Chasing Heroin deeply explores how America, faced with nearly 30,000 prescription opioid and heroin overdose deaths each year, is rethinking incarceration as a response to drug addiction.
“A large majority of Americans now agree that there has to be a more compassionate way, and at the bare minimum, a more effective way of responding and trying to stop what’s happening,” Alison Holcomb of the ACLU tells FRONTLINE.
Alongside an in-depth look at shifts in U.S. drug policy over the years, Chasing Heroin explores the country’s current shortage in treatment options: More than two million Americans need treatment for heroin use and abuse of prescription opioids, but only half have access to it.
It all adds up to American television’s most searing and comprehensive look yet at the heroin epidemic. Watch Chasing Heroin, a gripping and intense investigation of an American crisis at a make-or-break moment, on PBS or online Tuesday, Feb. 23, at a special time: 9 p.m. E.S.T/8 p.m. C.S.T.
FRONTLINE, U.S. television’s longest running investigative documentary series, explores the issues of our times through powerful storytelling. FRONTLINE has won every major journalism and broadcasting award, including 75 Emmy Awards and 17 Peabody Awards. Visit pbs.org/frontline and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Tumblr and Google+ to learn more. FRONTLINE is produced by WGBH Boston and is broadcast nationwide on PBS. Funding for FRONTLINE is provided through the support of PBS viewers and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Major funding for FRONTLINE is provided by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Additional funding is provided by the Park Foundation, the John and Helen Glessner Family Trust, the Ford Foundation, the Wyncote Foundation, and the FRONTLINE Journalism Fund with major support from Jon and Jo Ann Hagler on behalf of the Jon L. Hagler Foundation.
Patrice Taddonio, Patrice_taddonio@wgbh.org, 617.300.5375