You Might As Well Face It: You’re Addicted to Drugs

New documentary sheds light on a taboo subject

Harvard’s Office for Alcohol and Other Drug Services warns us to keep track of our drinks on school-sponsored Nalgenes, and concerned parents send weekly chain e-mails, deploring the danger of drugs. Faced with all that anti-addiction publicity, what makes HBO’s new 14-part documentary series “Addiction” any different?

For starters, the documentary series, which premiered yesterday, aspires to do more than frighten viewers. It aims to turn addiction from a taboo subject into an acceptable community topic for discussion.

At an advance screening held in Boston on Feb. 26, experts and former addicts came together to express enthusiasm for the show.

REAL-WORLD ECHOES

The screening, held at the Massachusetts State House, brought together many recovering addicts, representatives from the Massachusetts Organization for Addiction Recovery (MOAR), and state representatives to discuss addiction in Boston.

One recovering drug addict who attended the screening and who asked to be identified only as Jimi, said he anticipated that HBO’s name-recognition would help spread the film’s message.

“Hopefully, struggling drug addicts will see there are programs designed to help,” he said, adding that the medium of television could appeal to a large number of people. “It’s an easier way to get the information out there.”

According to MOAR Executive Director Maryanne Frangules, one in 10 people in Massachusetts suffers from an addiction of one kind or another.

“The show really reinforces that addiction is a disease,” she says, adding that she admired the film for its coverage of issues that one doesn’t usually think of in relationship to addiction, such as insurance discrimination and expanding insurance opportunities for medication-assisted recovery.

The 90-minute centerpiece for the project features nine separate segments, each directed by a different documentary filmmaker and covering a different theme, ranging from emergency room trauma to parent-child relationships.

David Rosenbloom, the director of Join Together—a Boston University-based program that works to develop community-based responses to alcohol and drug abuse—said he respected the film for going beyond the individual harm that substance abusers bring upon themselves and covering community issues, such as the relationship between substance abusers and “violence, infection and disease, and automobile accidents.”

HITTING HOME

As the diverse and respectable Everyman (and Everywoman) in glasses, sweaters, and red power-ties on the “Addiction” poster imply, the film series focuses on members of a typical American community, not third-time prison offenders on the fringe.

Furthermore, it covers issues beyond periods of addiction, such as new drug treatments and relapse stories. Addiction, in this series, is a disease, not a choice.

The series will debut during an HBO free-preview weekend, giving the unsubscribed a chance to watch, and hopefully learn, without charge. In addition, the 90-minute premiere and 13 short in-depth features will be available on HBO’s website.

In 30 cities nationwide, HBO-sponsored house parties will be held to encourage further dialogue and community action. A companion book is available for purchase, and the entire series will be offered on DVD.

Addiction might not be a weighty word in Harvard facebook groups dedicated to various trivial obsessions, but to the subjects of this documentary, it’s a serious disease—though not an incurable one.

As Jimi said at the Boston premiere, “They’re starting to put the word out there: recovery is possible.”

—Staff writer Lindsay A. Maizel can be reached at lmaizel@fas.harvard.edu.