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Heroin: Cape Cod

New documentary puts local heroin addiction in the national spotlight

By Maggie McNulty

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Last December, HBO aired a documentary entitled “Heroin: Cape Cod” featuring eight young addicts living on Cape Cod and its surrounding areas. This documentary assigned names and faces to a lethal disease: addiction. The documentary provides a gruesome, unflinching look at the daily lives of addicts and the struggles they encounter. Juxtaposed by the familiar Cape Cod backdrop, the potency of the problem is clearly illuminated, invigorating a greater conversation about heroin use on Cape Cod.

Since Barnstable Police Officer Nolan O’Melia’s first year on the job, he has administered Narcan, an opioid antagonist, 10 times. This number is representative of a growing surge of opiate-related crimes and overdoses on Cape Cod. The Hyannis Fire Department reported that they received 226 heroin-related calls by the end of 2015, an increase from 58 in 2011.

“I think it’s good that people are beginning to realize that this is happening in their own backyards,” said O’Melia. Barnstable High School senior, Halee Murphy, agreed. She said “Seeing such a serious problem in a familiar setting really opened my eyes to the seriousness of drug addiction on Cape Cod.”

Barnstable Public School’s Nursing and Wellness Coordinator Pam Ciborowski believes teens often do not realize that drugs can “change the chemistry of your brain permanently” and are “more dangerous the younger you start.” As a nurse for 30 years, and the nursing and wellness coordinator for four, Ciborowski has witnessed the rise in addiction firsthand and has begun to adapt the district’s curriculum to combat this problem with her coworkers and peers. Currently, nurses are being trained to administer Narcan and more programs enforcing drug prevention will be instated at the middle-school level. Additionally, screenings for substance abuse, entitled Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment, or SBIRT, are scheduled to begin in the upcoming years, intended to identify students at risk and provide referrals if needed.

Though the documentary incited praise from Cape Codders for its subversive look at drug abuse, it has been criticized for offering a narrow view of addiction. All of the subjects are white and many of them come from middle-class backgrounds and supportive families. Both Ciborowski and Krissie Williams, the advisor of the Students Against Destructive Decisions club and history teacher at Barnstable High School, feel that addiction is more convoluted than what was shown in the documentary. Williams said, “The documentary should have offered voices from more diverse perspectives. There are many reasons why people become addicted to drugs, and I feel those reasons were not conveyed adequately.” Cibrowski also said, “Addiction is a bigger-picture problem than what was portrayed in the documentary.” Both Williams and Cibrowski believe that the documentary over-dramatized the uniqueness of the epidemic on Cape Cod. They agreed, “Addiction occurs everywhere; Cape Cod just happens to be in the spotlight now.”

The documentary elicited a wide spectrum of responses and emotions. Williams admitted that she “had trouble sympathizing” with the featured addicts, claiming that they “seemed selfish and held little accountability for their actions.” O’Melia added that, while the documentary is “well-done and accurately portrays many aspects of addiction,” it does not convey “the magnitude of the actual problem.”

Cibrowski deliberated that a possible solution to the current heroin epidemic lies in the hands of the community. She said, “A multi-faceted, community-wide approach including health care providers, educators, parents, and young people is necessary.” Likewise, Williams said “Cape Codders are sometimes in denial of the very real problems we face. Once we accept that these problems are a reality, then we can respond appropriately.”

For students who want to learn more about drug abuse and the ways to prevent addiction, join the Students Against Destructive Decisions Club in room 2603.

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Heroin: Cape Cod