In 2010 alone enough prescription painkillers were prescribed in the US to medicate every American adult around-the-clock for one month. Prescriptions for opiates have nearly tripled over the last 25 years. Today, one painkiller- addicted baby is born every hour. On college campuses, prescription painkiller use is second only to marijuana. Every day another 2,500 young Americans abuse prescription pain relievers for the first time and drug overdoses claim more lives than car accidents.
Death from opiates exceeds those from all other drugs combined. Opiate addiction is fueled by legitimate prescriptions written by doctors, but addicted people often turn to heroin as a cheaper, more accessible substitute or buy pharmaceutical pills on the street. Their bodies need the fix to avoid the wrenching symptoms of withdrawal.
Drug companies aggressively market stronger and stronger opiates (the general term used to include synthetic prescription opioids) and have a track record of misleading the public about their addictive properties. After 7 years of legal battling, the first major lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, the company that makes OxyContin, is set to come to trial in 2015. Much like lawsuits against Big Tobacco, it alleges that Purdue deliberately misled doctors and patients about the addictive properties of the drug. (Purdue actually advertised OxyContin as non-addictive due to its “unique time release formula” – a claim that is patently untrue.) That story, of billions made on a lie and the resulting catastrophic blight of addiction and overdoses, will be front-page news in the coming months, in parallel with the planned release of this film.
“Written Off” is about the unconditional love of a mother for her addicted son. It is about the bond between two best friends. It is about love between a girlfriend and addicted boyfriend. And it is about Matt’s 10- year affair with drugs. Each relationship tells part of the story of how addiction really functions in one life.
Looking back, the incremental steps Matt’s addiction took seem like a straight line to overdose, but in the moment none of it was obvious. The shame of addiction, the fear of legal prosecution, the lack of conversation and public education about how to help – and Matt’s own belief that he could use willpower to quit using – combined to create a situation where he had no way out.
These drugs are incredibly powerful. More people get hooked on them every day and more families descend into a secret nightmare . This film is a warning to patients – no matter what your doctor tells you, powerful opioid painkillers are addictive. It is a warning to parents – don’t have prescription painkillers in the house if you have children, don’t ignore warning signs like secretive phone calls, sudden illnesses, nodding off in conversation. It is a warning to all the smart, adventurous young people who might want to try something new. This isn’t a party drug – this stuff can change your brain and take away your life.
One way in which drug addiction is written off is by thinking of it as a choice. That may be true at the beginning – a prescription pain medication patient may feel themselves looking forward to their next dose and that longing may change their behavior. Like Matt, they may steal pills from friends’ medicine cabinets once their prescription runs out. But what begins as a choice can quickly become what addiction doctors categorize as a disorder. People understand that eating disorders are not a choice. Or that while some HIV positive people may have contracted the virus because they chose to engage in high-risk behavior, they are deserving of compassionate treatment. Addiction is not understood in the same way.
By understanding one man’s story, in his words and from the people who cared about him most, we want to combat the stigma, encourage compassion and leave our audience with the fundamental idea that every person matters.