OPIOIDS: A Breakdown of the Invisible Overdose Crisis in the Black Community
Live Watch Party and Discussion
A DBHIDS watch party and discussion with the filmmakers of this powerful short production took place at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 31 — International Overdose Awareness Day.
Special remarks by:
- DBHIDS Commissioner Jill Bowen, Ph.D., and Tumar Alexander, City of Philadelphia Managing Director
Guest speakers include:
- Richard Patterson Jr., Artist, and Filmmaker @whatshisnameson
- James Rivers, cast and family member
- Brandon Chastang, Sober Messenger, and Motivator @bmcfly_
- Pamela McClenton, Sr. Director of DBHIDS Diversity, Equity & Inclusion @DBHIDS
- Gabriel Bryant, event moderator and Engaging Males of Color Coordinator @EMOCPhilly
The Crisis in Philadelphia
The Crisis in Philadelphia
Philadelphia is facing the greatest public health crisis in a century. Every neighborhood in the city is being hit hard by an epidemic of opioid use and overdose. Across all racial and ethnic groups, the number of deaths from drug overdose is catastophic.
The City is working to save lives, improve access to help, and reverse the negative effects opioids have had on our communities. Learn more: Combating the Opioid Epidemic: Fighting back agains the crisis in Philadelphia
About the film
About the film: How the short documentary film came to be
So, what are opioids?
That’s what Richard Patterson Jr. asked his mentors, El Sawyer and Jon Kaufman, after leaving the Pennsylvania Reentry Coalition at the State Capitol building in Harrisburg.
Rich, who finished a three-year prison sentence in 2013, took part in the SHOOTERS program: a media development program for formerly incarcerated individuals. Working with Sawyer and Kaufman at SHOOTERS introduced him to digital media and fueled an aspiration for filmmaking. Hungry for his first project, Rich explored issues plaguing his own neighborhood. When he learned opioids are found in prescription medications such as Percocet, or “Percs” as he calls them, he knew there was an opportunity for a bigger story. He figured most people he grew up with probably never heard the word opioid, thus the idea for the film was conceptualized.
”It’s confusing to me because the way the news media shows it, all you see is white people living in tents under train stations. At the time, it didn’t seem like a Black issue at all!”
Rich soon learned there was a lack of awareness within his own community around the language of the opioid crisis. If the messaging around the drug isn’t clear to the people in his community, the understanding of getting help isn’t either. From his research, he founds the biggest issue is that counterfeit pills look exactly like prescription “Xanies” (Xanax) and “Percs” but are laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid. Fentanyl is like morphine, but the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) warns it’s 50 to 100 times more powerful. Nearly 67 percent of opioid overdose deaths in 2019 included fentanyl. Considering that fentanyl is now found in more and more illicit substances, the number of overdoses is likely to increase.
The goal of this documentary film is to start a national conversation about the language of the opioid crisis and to use it as a tool to spread awareness of the epidemic to Black communities. In collaboration with Seven Halsema, a teacher at SHOOTERS and experienced filmmaker from the Netherlands, Rich engaged in community research and drafted a film script. Not long after, they found themselves interviewing people in Rich’s North Philadelphia neighborhood to gauge the knowledge of opioids among the people he grew up with.
”More people can tell you where to get some ‘Percs’ than where they can get into recovery.”
Upon starting their interviews, they quickly discovered that most people had no clue about the relationship between commonly used pills and opioids. If they did, the stigma around addiction kept them from openly talking about it. A rare case was found in James Rivers, who lost his sister to an opioid-related overdose and included her cause of death in her obituary. Rivers is a vocal advocate in the community and talks about his experience in the film. Through personal stories told by people like Rivers, this short documentary film takes a closer look inside black communities and offers clarity and help for individuals and communities dealing with opioid related addiction. As Rich states: ”It can be the difference in getting help or getting left behind. It can be the difference in life or death.”
Richard Patterson Jr. — Multi-talented artist
Richard Patterson Jr. grew up in the streets of North Philadelphia. After being incarcerated and then released in 2013, he forged a new path for himself through video and filmmaking. In 2015, he attended a fledgling program named SHOOTERS, headed by his long-time mentors, El Sawyer and Jon Kaufman. During his time in the program, he learned the craft of filmmaking and created his own work. In 2019, he received a grant from the Doc Society to work on decoding the language of the opioid crisis and the cultural differences and inequalities it reveals. As an artist and aspiring documentary filmmaker, Rich seeks to tell stories about human experiences, rarely heard by those outside his community by starting a conversation about issues barely discussed inside his community.
Seven Halsema — Accomplished filmmaker
Seven Halsema was born and raised in Amsterdam. He studied educational science and successfully graduated from the School of Audio Engineering. He worked for some of the biggest post-production companies in the Netherlands on productions such as ‘The Voice.’’ He made his transition to the United States in 2012 to pursue documentary filmmaking. Much of his work was alongside co-founders El Sawyer and Jon Kaufman focusing on social justice related issues. Their first release was the successfully acclaimed documentary “Pull of Gravity,” which focuses on mass incarceration and recidivism. It received critical acclaim by President Barack Obama during his televised NAACP speech in 2015.
Since that time, Seven produced a variety of projects, throughout the United States and Europe, and mentored previously incarcerated individuals in filmmaking and journalism.
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