Chasing the Dragon is a documentary film created by the FBI and DEA to address the growing opiate epidemic that is sweeping across the United States. This is not your typical “drugs are bad” educational documentary. The creators of this film took care to keep this film authentic, and give a real glimpse into the lives of people who have been affected by this issue. Although the film is aimed at the youth population, it can and should be watched by people of all ages. After all, addiction is a real disease that affects to children, teens, adults and the elderly alike.
Here are 7 crucial things to take away from this powerful film.
1. Anyone Can Be an Addict.
Throughout the film, you will meet students, housewives and everyday people who are living firsthand the effects of opiate addiction.
Julia was an honor roll student. Matt had loving, supportive parents. Cory loved to go camping with his family and he was an Eagle Scout. Katrina and Melissa were both loving mothers.
However, when it comes to addiction, it doesn’t matter how smart you are, who you are or where you come from. People who try drugs for the first time don’t set out to become addicts. In fact, they overwhelmingly believe they can control it. The reality is their actions tell a different story, one in which they can’t control their use and are powerless in the face of opiates. Good intentions are no match for the disease. The fact is, if people could control their using they wouldn’t be overdosing dying or going to prison.
2. Doing Other Drugs Can Lead to Opiate Use.
Matt started smoking pot at 11. Sarah began using marijuana as a teen. Katrina started with alcohol and pain pills. The list goes on.
While some drugs like marijuana may not by physically addictive the way that opiates are, the film shows that you can actually become psychologically addicted to the high it gives. Soon, you may find that you start seeking a better high, or you become more open to doing other drugs. The thing people need to remember is that 20 percent of the population has a genetic predisposition. Add in other factors like trauma and any substance which affects the dopamine system in the brain will more than likely lead to addiction for that population.
3. A Few Months in Jail or Rehab Doesn’t Magically “Cure” You
One of the many heartbreaking moments in the documentary takes place when Sierra’s mother talks about her daughter's overdose and death. She details that Sierra had been able to get clean in jail while staying there for 7 months. When she got out, she appeared healthy and happy. She had gone to meetings and not mentioned that she was struggling. However, six days later, she went to the convenience store before quietly going to her room. It was there that she was found dead due to an overdose.
The message is clear: just getting clean doesn’t cure you. It helps to start the process of physically healing but there is still a long road ahead. Many people are under the impression that if everything looks good on the outside, that the person is better. But this isn’t the case. Treatment can help but it must be followed up by continued support. This should ideally include staying in a sober living facility, continuing individual therapy and attending a 12-step or alternative recovery program. The first weeks and months of sobriety are a vulnerable time and, unfortunately, relapse is very common.
4. You Don’t Know Which One Will Kill You.
It could be your first or your fifth. You could be using for years. It could be the same amount, but this time it kills you. You just don’t know. Addicts don’t generally anticipate that the heroin or pills they are about to take are going to kill them, but tens of thousands die every single year. In the film, Sierra didn’t know that the trip she took to get drugs that night would be her last, or that the high was going to end her life.
5. You Will Do Things You Never Thought You Would Do.
Nobody grows up wanting to be an addict, and in the early phases you never think you will do what other addicts do. You convince yourself that you will never stoop to robbery, prostitution, stealing from family, using dirty needles or abandoning your children. Those are all things most people feel confident they will never do. Once you are addicted though, there are few limits to the things you won’t do to get your next high.
The story Melissa told in the film of her experiences were shocking. You may watch and think it would never happen to you. However, the reality is that once you are in this lifestyle, these things will barely faze you. Instead, they become a part of everyday survival.
So often, it’s easy to look at the things addicts do and label them as bad people. This conveniently separates them from you. You’re a good person, therefore you could never do these horrible things. As you watch the documentary, you will clearly see that these are also normal, good people. They are no different than you or me. What is different is their disease.
6. If You Die, Your Family is Left to Grieve and Suffer for the Rest of Their Lives.
Your suffering is over, but theirs is just beginning. The bottom line is: opiates and heroin are deadly. You never know which time will be your last and, even if you do survive, you are not immune from drug-related health problems or diseases. It is the people left behind who have to pick up the pieces and somehow move on with their lives. Your family, friends, boyfriend, girlfriend, everyone who loves and cares for you, are left with the scars of your use and death.
7. There is Hope for Recovery.
Catching the Dragon paints a bleak but real picture of addiction and the aftermath. Death, incarceration, lives forever changed—this is the truth of untreated addiction. Several of the interviews with hopeful addicts talking about their desire to change end with them using again or going back to jail or prison. These individuals really wanted to get better to change. They recognized and regretted their decisions to use. They had hope, but unfortunately this was not enough to take away the fact that they are addicts.
Opiate addiction is powerful and it may leave you feeling like there is no hope—but there is hope. While the numbers of people who are able to recover from addiction long-term aren’t very reassuring, the truth is that people get better every single day. There are treatment options out there and drug detox is a good idea for opiate users prior to treatment.
Each of us has the power to turn this epidemic around. If you are struggling, get help. If you are offered drugs, walk away. If you know someone who is experimenting or abusing drugs, say something. Opiate addiction is a destructive, deadly force, but it can be overcome. The stories of Katrina. Melissa, Cory and Matt show us all that recovery is possible.
The full documentary is available to watch on the FBI official website.