CHILLICOTHE – Four young girls bounce on a trampoline, laughing just before the sounds of a 911 call cut in: “My mom is on the floor and my step-dad’s face is pale and they’re not waking up.”
The juxtaposition of what should be a carefree childhood with the reality hundreds of Ohio children are facing is how the newest Fault Lines short documentary “Heroin’s Children” opens. While the child’s 911 call and other children’s calls in the 25-minute documentary are from elsewhere in Ohio, the intimate stories shared are Chillicothe residents.
Fault Lines, which is Al Jazeera English’s Emmy and Peabody award-winning documentary program, is the latest of a seemingly never ending line of non-local news and documentary programs drawn to Chillicothe to show the toll the opiate epidemic is taking on the community, the state, and across the nation.
While seemingly being the poster child of an epidemic has been trying for the community, Fault Lines Senior Producer Laila Al-Arian said it was the willingness of the community to talk openly about addiction that attracted her attention.
“When I started doing research about the impact of the heroin crisis on children, I came across some great reporting from Chillicothe, including local profiles and pieces in the Gazette. Unlike a lot of other cities and towns across America, it’s clear that many people in Chillicothe are open to speaking about their experiences with drug addiction, so we found that many doors were open to us,” Al-Arian said via email.
“The fire chief, police captain, mayor, school principal, hospital and so many others were so open about giving us access to their spaces and their lives. The prevailing attitude that we came across in Chillicothe is a willingness to tell this story because only when people can see it for themselves will they be able to grasp the severity of the problem … During a time when there seems to be so much suspicion and mistrust of the media, we found it refreshing that people saw a point to meeting and talking with a crew from Washington DC.”
The documentary is emotionally intense. Josh Rushing helps guide the conversation, presented from different perspectives. There’s Amanda Howard who shares how the grip of heroin addiction impacted her ability to be a mother; Tisa Beeler who talks about raising her four granddaughters; and Alexis Lightle who heartbreakingly struggles with wishing her parents had never been addicted to drugs even though it means she’d never been born.
“Their lives are even more precious than my own, I think,” Lightle told Rushing, wiping away tears. Her dad, Andrew Lightle, died of a drug overdose in November 2015 – one of 40 who died of drug overdoses in Ross County that year.
“Heroin’s Children” also touches on community solutions through a visit to Adena Regional Medical Center where Donna Collier-Stepp runs a program for pregnant women who are addicted to drugs. While Rushing was there, women shared their shame, guilt, and fears.
“The women were incredibly strong and brave, and wanted to tell their stories in order to help others. So many of them said they were tired of the stigma associated with drug addiction and that they were willing to speak on camera because if they could help one person or one family, it would have been worth it,” Al-Arian said.
The documentary also went along with the Chillicothe Fire Department to a double overdose on Clay Street where there’s also a woman holding a baby talking to first responders. Ross County Coroner Dr. John Gabis appears in the documentary, referring to the epidemic as the black plague, a zombie apocalypse.
While the Fault Lines crew saw a variety of different ways Chillicothe is attempting to combat the opiate epidemic, such as the drug-free school programs and efforts by the Heroin Partnership Project, Al-Arian said they could only fit so much into a short documentary and wanted to really focus on intimate stories. However, she said they are planning additional shows where they intend to delve more into how communities are responding to the opiate epidemic.
“It was … inspiring to see how Chillicothe as a community is coming together to really openly talk about the issue and do something about it, including the program at Chillicothe High School that encourages kids to be drug free,” Al-Arian said.
She is hopeful showing the toll addiction has on families and children can help break down stigma and lead to more action to combat the opiate epidemic.
“I hope this short film gives people a real sense of what it’s like being in a family struggling with drug addiction and to understand the impact its having on people, whether it’s your friends or neighbors or people who live across town,” she said. “I hope more empathy and understanding will create an urgency to devote the necessary resources to fight this epidemic and help families who are suffering.”
“Heroin’s Children” is available to watch in full on the Fault Lines’ YouTube channel at: “Heroin’s Children:” Inside the US Opioid Crisis