Graphic Film, Discussion Aim to Open Conversation Between Parents, Teens About Opioid Abuse
Around 120 people, most of them parents of school-age children, listened somberly as the mother in the film relayed how her teenage daughter died of an overdose upstairs while she was downstairs cooking dinner.
They cringed when a woman said she was so narrowly focused on getting high, she hadn't cared that an infected wound in her leg, caused by shooting up, had maggots in it, and didn't hesitate to mix toilet water from a public restroom with drugs and inject it.
They gasped when a woman remembered injecting heroin into her jugular vein, dying, being brought back to life in the hospital and then leaving, still in her hospital gown, to buy more heroin from the same dealer and put it into her IV.
And, Neil Morgenstern of Appalachia High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area assured them after the film's end, their children would have had the same reactions.
It was the first of four planned showings of the FBI's mini-documentary "Chasing the Dragon: The Life of an Opiate Addict" sponsored by Knox County Schools, Knox County PTA and several governmental and nonprofit agencies to facilitate discussion between parents and teens.But few students were present at the film's Sept. 28 showing at Bearden High, which was followed by a presentation by Morgenstern and a panel discussion during which Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch, Rural/Metro Fire's Capt. Mark Warren, addiction specialist Dr. Mark McGrail of Cherokee Health Systems, Karen Pershing of Metro Drug Coalition and Bearden High principal John Bartlett answered audience questions."Students appreciate the authenticity of this video," said Morgenstern, who said he's shown it to more than 1,000 teens in East Tennessee and Kentucky. "These are real people telling real stories. ... Students need this information. They want this information. They appreciate this information."
The documentary has some course language and graphic descriptions, he added, but it opens a conversation about the equally graphic drug epidemic gripping this region. It provides him with a chance to give teens and their parents alike information that might help save lives.
"They don't know that Knox County – in fact, our entire region – has been flooded with counterfeit pills," Morgenstern said – and those are not, as teens have guessed when he asked, made of sugar or inert ingredients. Instead, he said, dealers have found it's more cost-effective to make fake name-brand painkillers and anti-anxiety drugs from heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and, most dangerously, fentanyl, which killed more people than any other drug in Knox County in 2016, according to the Knox County Regional Forensic Center.
Morgenstern showed a slide he said was "enough fentanyl to kill you": a pile of grains, dwarfed by a penny.
"Is there any way to know" if a pill is counterfeit? he said. "Absolutely not."
Rausch backed up Morgenstern's assertion that marijuana is, for many teens, a "gateway drug," with Rausch saying that decades ago marijuana contained about 3 percent THC, compared to the 59 percent THC, and sometimes fentanyl, police are seeing in the marijuana circulating today.
He and Bartlett both addressed an audience question about whether having the opioid overdose antidote naloxone, or NarCan, available at local high schools would draw addicts to school grounds. Earlier this month, Knox County Schools received a $21,000 grant to put naloxone kits in schools.
Bartlett said school security is adequate, and "I'd rather have NarCan here and save a student's life ... than (decline it because of the) possibility of offending somebody, and that student die."
Rausch said it was "probably more likely" the antidote would be used "on parents picking up their kids" anyway.
The film will be screened three more times, with the presentation and question-and-answer panel following: Oct. 5 at South-Doyle High; Oct. 25 at Fulton High; and Oct. 26 at Halls High. Each event is 6-8 p.m.
It also includes a resource fair with various agencies staffing booths with information for parents, students, teachers and other community members.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration created the 45-minute film to raise awareness of drug abuse and the profound downward spiral opiate addiction can cause.
The film, whose title refers to the never-ending pursuit of the original or ultimate high, features first-person accounts told by individuals who have abused opioids or whose children have abused opioids, with tragic consequences.
The film includes strong language, intense content and graphic images, so ideally parents will view the film ahead of time, said Deborah Crouse, media relations and project director of Metro Drug Coalition, one of the co-sponsors of the school showings.
"Then, we hope that parents will engage their kids to come with them" to the screening and the discussion afterward, Crouse said. "We want this conversation to continue."
"Chasing the Dragon"
What: 45-minute film showing followed by brief presentation and Q-and-A on opioid abuse prevention
When and where: 6-8 p.m. Oct. 5 at South-Doyle High; Oct. 25 at Fulton High; and Oct. 26 at Halls High
Also: Streamed live on knoxschools.org/kcstv and Comcast Channel 10