Not My Addiction: Combating the Stigma on Drug Abuse
Q&A With: Ray Kemp, Producer of “Not My Addiction”
Viewer Testimonial: “I found the video, ‘Not My Addiction,’ to be one of the best works illustrating the real-world, human impact of Substance Use Disorder and the effect this illness has on patients and their families. What may begin as a bad decision ends up becoming a spiraling trap that few people, even health care providers, fully comprehend. I want all of my pre-hospital as well as medical students to watch this compelling documentary demonstrating the daily battle these users face coupled with the very real hope of meaningful and lasting sobriety if these patients are given the opportunity to escape their death grip of addiction. Viewers will gain a much deeper understanding of the psyche leading up to recovery which will help them manage these patients in a much more comprehensive way.” —Dr. David Tan, M.D., EMT-T, FAAEM, FAEMS
EMS World: What inspired you to create this film?
Ray Kemp: It is the first and only production of its kind that we know of, that is more or less designed for first responders, although it’s a good video for anybody who needs to improve their knowledge of opiate addiction and how it impacts opioid-addicted patients. I had a stigma myself up until four years ago. I had learned that my youngest daughter was a heroin addict and I didn't understand the disease, to be honest. I’ve been on tons of heroin overdose calls, and I’ve watched what happens, but I honestly never really gave a whole lot of regard to the patient. I just figured these people didn't know any better and were down on their luck or irresponsible.
Looking back, I'm ashamed at the way I looked at them. It wasn't until I had watched my daughter go through three days of withdrawal symptoms in my house that I understood. I’d never seen withdrawal. Most medics and EMTs don't see withdrawals, so you don't know what it’s like. I saw the pain that she was going through because we were trying to get her into a rehabilitation center, but there was a waiting list, so she was trying to dry out in the meantime. That's when I knew I needed to become a student about opiate addiction. There was much more to this than what I thought there was. That's what started me on the pathway to learn more about opioid addiction.
Now I have much more sympathy toward the patients just from my own research. I am still seeing a lot of stigma from the medics and the EMTs and the police. It’s very callous, but I understand why they do that—because this is not taught in schools. It is because of the ignorance and the lack of education. That’s when we decided to look at making a video production to better inform first responders about what they're dealing with—why [opioid addicts] do the things they do, like leave the hospital right after you drop them off and get angry after you give them Narcan.
What did you want to accomplish with this film?
The whole goal is to give first responders a much better insight as to what’s going on with the patients. It's very important that first responders understand how painful it is if the patients are not on the drug and why they have to go to the extremes that they do to stay on the drug.
They will have a better understanding of why these patients behave the way they do when they’re revived with Narcan as the dope-sickness starts to set in. Now they can work better with the patients. They know what’s going to happen, they know why the patients are doing this, they understand that they've been in extreme pain. And that's what really comes out of the production.
How did you want to approach the making of this film to ensure it resonated with viewers?
So, I consulted with my cousin, Gary, a couple of years ago. He was a retired probation and parole officer for the state of Missouri. But he was also a Missouri State certified heroin counselor. He had seen thousands of heroin addicts. When I approached him—I will never forget this—he loved the idea. He said, "Whatever you do, Ray, make them human." He was absolutely right because I had never thought about that. All the behavior that you would see from providers from time to time—it was almost like addicts were being treated as sub-human. Those words always resonated with me. When we started doing the interviews, we specifically went into areas with each one of the subjects to get that human element from them that a viewer could relate to… getting into their families and all that. We wanted to bring all that to the forefront so hopefully the viewer would start to have empathy for who they were watching in the production. It shows that people who are addicted can come out of this. They are not all write-offs.
After I had produced the video, I had sent a copy over to Gary to watch it. I was shocked when he called me back about an hour later, and he just raved about it. He said, “You hit all the elements.” To hear that from him was really important because this was a man who had worked with thousands of opioid addicts here in the state of Missouri over the years. And then tragically a week later Gary died. He had a heart attack. That’s why you see his name when you watch the credits: in memory of Gary Jerrison.
What kind of impact has the film had on the EMS community so far?
It’s been very sobering for me to see that the video is having a significant impact on viewers. I got a phone call from some people in North Carolina asking if I could present the production at the Emergency Medicine Today conference in October of 2017. About 250 people were in the audience and I had no idea what the reaction was going to be. Part way through the video, I already knew we were making some hits. I saw people crying in there. You could hear a pin drop. Not one person left. After the production, I had people come up to me saying they must have this film for their EMT and paramedic classes. And of course, we said we would make arrangements for that. Some people told me, "I can't believe those were heroin addicts.” Because you think of a stereotypical crackhead look, but my daughter was a heroin addict for two years before I found out.
But what really surprised me was that I had several EMTs and paramedics come up to me and confess that the video had instantly changed them. They were ashamed of how they were feeling before. They were thanking me for making this production. That's when I knew we had hit a home run. The message came across clearly because of my cousin Gary’s advice about making it human. If you notice, we don't have doctors or clinicians in there. We wanted to make sure that the message came from the people who are recovering opioid addicts directly to the viewers who are first responders.
Research continues to back up the claim that addiction is a disease, not a choice. Aside from those who have seen the film, have you noticed an increase in people’s acceptance of addiction as a disease?
No. They're still resistant to it because there's not enough education about it. That's the big problem. The ones who propagate the idea that it’s a choice are the ones who have the least knowledge about opiate addiction. Like Candace said in her interview: “You don’t control the drug, the drug controls you.”
More and more organizations are trying to put on awareness programs for their medics, but there's just not enough. These changes aren't coming fast enough and there's still a lot of ignorance. Here's the problem: you get an EMT, they come out of school, now they're going to be riding with somebody who's been in the business for a while. Guess where they're going to get their training about opiate patients? From the guy who has a stigma. And they will adopt that stigma, so we need to intercept this earlier by getting it into EMT and paramedic programs as well as the continuing education programs.
I've had a lot of inquiries about that since we debuted this back in October. Students are now required to watch the film at Christian Hospital Northeast [St. Louis, Mo.] and now the Chicago Fire Department wants to incorporate it into their programs, so I think over a period of time we're definitely going to be seeing more and more places turn to this type of video.
Do you have plans for future installments of the film?
We're doing another production, it's entitled "Waking Up." This one is designed for high schools and youth groups because we quickly realized that there's a pretty big black hole right now in the high schools. We need to increase the level of awareness about opiates at the high school level because the three girls in the film are prime examples of what happens. If you recall in the interviews, all three of the girls got started either in high school or right after high school, and they started using because of their boyfriends. Not everybody starts because they've been prescribed opiates. They just didn't have enough education about where this was going to lead them. So, the “Waking Up” production is actually content from those three girls going into detail about how they got started. They all said they went through D.A.R.E. [Drug Abuse Resistance Education] back in middle school, but it didn't focus heavily on this area, so we need to get it into the high schools.
How can agencies incorporate this education into their training programs?
We’re open to help out any organizations and provide additional material. We’re available to be a part of their programs via Skype—we’ve done this a couple times in North Carolina. So, the agency could show the film to a viewing audience and then we would Skype in and they could ask us questions. I can get the people in the film to call in as well to answer any questions and provide more information. They are happy to help out.
For more information on how to incorporate “Not My Addiction” into your agency’s program, contact Ray Kemp at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Not My Addiction” Team:
Ray Kemp: Producer/Filmmaker
Audrey Stolze: Producer/Editor
Steve Cakouros: Audio Engineer