Opioid Crisis Documentaries

by Balboa Horizons | March 17, 2019

The opioid crisis in the U.S. has led to great suffering. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there are more than 115 fatal overdoses every day due to opioids.

People become hooked on addictive prescription painkillers. They may start using heroin or turn to fentanyl and other synthetic opioids. The risks they face include death, serious health problems, psychological impairments, and diminished quality of life, including job loss and the disintegration of relationships.

Documentaries can help us better understand the crisis and highlight the plight of people who are addicted. These films play an important role in raising awareness and helping people feel less alone. They can also facilitate a discussion about how to tackle opioid addiction and end the epidemic.

The following are several highly recommended documentaries about the opioid crisis.

Heroin: Cape Cod, USA

The opioid epidemic has affected communities around the U.S., including places that are associated with a comfortable lifestyle or that serve as popular vacation spots. “Heroin: Cape Cod, USA” is a documentary focusing on a part of Massachusetts known for its beaches and outdoor leisure. Beneath the charming surface, the opioid crisis has created serious problems.

Stephen Okazaki, the film’s award-winning director, focuses on eight young adults who are addicted to heroin and have struggled with recovery and relapse. The documentary also brings parents into the spotlight to discuss how addiction affects families as a whole. Even people who have enjoyed stable childhoods are vulnerable to addiction. Various environmental stressors undermine the effort to sustain a drug-free life; for example, a lack of work can increase the chances of people turning to drugs. The documentary shows the pervasiveness of the opioid crisis and how it affects people directly and indirectly.

Heroin: The Hardest Hit

This gripping documentary is available on the YouTube channel for the Attorney General of Virginia. In less than an hour, “Heroin: The Hardest Hit” shows the devastating effects of the opioid epidemic on Virginians. Even if you don’t live in Virginia, you’ll gain important insights from the film and develop a stronger understanding of how the opioid epidemic isn’t just an individual problem. It’s also a problem of society and community.

The documentary shows a variety of perspectives on the crisis. Parents talk about losing their children to overdoses; both teenagers and adults engage in heroin use and nonmedical use of painkillers. People addicted to heroin discuss their struggles, and professionals working in public health and law enforcement share what they’ve learned.

Heroin’s Children

At the start of “Heroin’s Children,” the viewers hear a young child making a 911 call. The child’s mother and father are unconscious and possibly not breathing. With this harrowing opening, the documentary begins to show the effects of the opioid crisis on families.

The focus is on Chillicothe, a small city in Ohio. A child talks about losing her parents to death and to a prison sentence. One interviewee is a grandmother struggling to take care of four grandchildren. Other people interviewed include a mother who turned to heroin after first becoming addicted to an opioid painkiller; this is a common pattern for addiction. Her story is hopeful, because she managed to recover and stop using heroin. The documentary is a powerful look at how the crisis involves fragmented families and young children suffering neglect. It’s important to understand that the repercussions extend across generations.

Warning: This Drug May Kill You

This film, which came out in 2017, provides some statistics about the widespread use of opioids in the U.S. and information about the involvement of pharmaceutical companies. It also shows the human side of the crisis by focusing on four families that have been hit by addiction. Each of these opioid addictions began with a legitimate prescription for a painkiller; for example, one of the people profiled in the film received powerful painkillers for kidney stones. These families couldn’t have imagined that prescriptions would wind up pushing them down a path of such harm and pain.

One of the purposes of this film is to help lift the stigma from addiction. Shame keeps people from seeking help and discussing any problems that may be contributing to their addiction. Shame can set unrealistic expectations and make people give up after a relapse. Addiction hurts people from all walks of life; people need to know that it isn’t a punishment for poor character.


The opioid crisis has ravaged West Virginia. The epidemic costs the state several billion dollars every year, a financial drain that results from the devastation brought about by loss of life, shattered health, and struggling communities.

“Oxyana,” an award-winning film, demonstrates some of the horrific human costs in a small town in West Virginia. It shows the backdrop of the struggle, an environment that offers a poor economic outlook and a lack of meaningful activities. These larger issues combine with irresponsible prescription practices and other negligent or criminal behavior to make the fight against addiction significantly more difficult.

Which documentaries about the opioid crisis have you watched?

We’ve highlighted only some of the films that have been released in recent years. These documentaries are important for giving a voice to people who struggle with addiction and for allowing families and friends to speak of grief, love, and hope. They touch on some of the major contributing factors to the epidemic, and they help sustain the conversation about solutions. They show how our society as a whole is affected by the epidemic and how no one should feel alone in addiction and recovery.