Even as the Nation Grapples With the Coronavirus, The Opioid Epidemic Continues to Eat Away At Our Heartland | Opinion

I grew up in rural, rust belt Pennsylvania. Although the economy and opportunity may be limited in this part of the country, it was a wonderful place to be raised. Small schools, football, community picnics, and exploring the backwoods of the heartland of America—these are a lot of my memories from my youth. Today I live and work in Hollywood, California and I don't know that there is even one square inch that is the same in these two settings. But something that remains constant no matter where I live or travel in the world, is that I remember where I came from and stay in touch with friends and family. This remembrance is why I wrote "Shooting Heroin", on the opioid crisis ravaging my home.

Today we are seeing the COVID-19 sweep across our country, tearing apart families and ravaging communities. The opioid epidemic has been doing much the same, but in agonizing slow motion. Much of the heartland of America has been destroyed by drugs, addiction, depression, and despair. When I was growing up, the small town I came from was Mayberry in the Andy Griffith show. Everyone knew each other's name, what was going on in the town, and what the kids were up to at the local high school. It was in reconnecting with my high school classmates that I learned how terrible the opioid epidemic had affected this once-idyllic small town. Our high school reunion took place and there were classmates missing—many from my generation are no longer here today because of this crisis. It is heartbreaking to me.

The millions of deaths caused by the opioid epidemic amount to a lost generation. The news doesn't report on this nearly enough, politicians rarely try to tackle it head-on, and many of the pharmaceutical companies continue collecting revenues as populations dwindle in our small towns.

When I was doing my research and development on this story, I would ask people in interviews why they thought this epidemic had gotten so bad in the heartland of America. The most commonly repeated answer I heard was that there was an overwhelming sense of "despair." Despair that things were not going to get better in town, in job prospects, opportunity, and for the future. There was and is hope missing, not only in small towns in America, but throughout my Millennial generation, and I fear the next generation too.

My generation is being wiped out by self harm and personal annihilation, whether from drugs and addiction, or despair and depression. Grandparents are raising their grandchildren because the parent's generation—my generation—is either in jail or gone, either mentally or physically.
Greek philosopher Sophocles once wrote "Despair often breeds disease." I made this film to give hope that things can change... people can change... our situation and my generation can change. That will only happen if we rediscover a hope for a better future.

Just as in my fictional movie a small town fights back against the spread of drugs, we too can be active and have a hand in changing history. I want to inspire people to fight for hope and loosen the chains of shame and despair that so many victims and their families have experienced. In the fight for a healthier, safer, more hopeful America, there is more than one battle to win.

Spencer Folmar is the writer/director of the film "Shooting Heroin" which releases nationwide on April 3rd.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​