University of New Hampshire alum and documentary filmmaker Michael Venn educated and enlightened UNH students and community members as he previewed his most recent project “The Heroin Effect,” part of the Memorial Union and Student Activities’ “Tomorrow’s Challenges” series. 

In this edition – entitled “The Opioid Crisis” – Venn, a graduate of the UNH classes of 1995 and 1996 with dual degrees in communications and psychology, showcased a trailer and short clip from the recently-released documentary, which featured interviews with several former and current heroin users, touched upon the political impact of the crisis on the state of New Hampshire – such as starting with President Donald Trump’s controversial remarks on NH’s “tremendous heroin problem” – and showcased a seven-minute segment starring the late David Couzins, a heroin user who attempted to curb his addiction by taking videos on his smartphone as a form of self-therapy. The clip additionally showed reactions and comments from David’s wife Jennifer and detective Seth Trondeault, who investigated David’s sudden death. 

While much of the presentation consisted of a Q&A between the audience and Venn, the filmmaker also took time during the hour-long event to highlight statistics regarding heroin use in the United States, such as the fact that, per Venn, 144 people die each day from a heroin overdose. In New Hampshire, in 2016, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported 481 heroin overdose deaths. 

Venn touched upon the process that went into making “The Heroin Effect” as well, stressing the difficult nature of obtaining interviews and first-hand accounts from affected users of heroin. One significant moment came about when Venn spoke with a young heroin user who died shortly after Venn interviewed him. After his funeral, Venn recalled calling the boy’s mother about reaching out to her for an interview, who agreed; when Venn called her back with a sudden idea to film her answers at the location of his son’s freshly-laid grave, he was surprised when she agreed to that as well, stating that that is what her son would have wanted as a way to strengthen the impact of the moment.  

“At the time that I started it, it felt like I was already too late to get started on the film,” Venn said; “and then, you know, just kind of seeing everything progress and it being part of the news cycle for so long, to the point where it’s still a major news thing but it doesn’t get the attention.” 

Venn, who dedicated the documentary to a friend of his who died of a heroin overdose, told the attendees, said he was encouraged to make the film at the recommendation of friends who supported his idea of documenting the crisis with first-person perspectives and the problem’s persistence in the state despite previous efforts to curb its negative impacts. 

“We’re kind of losing a generation of people from it,” Venn stressed. “If any other disease killed 70,000 people last year in the U.S. and it was people that were between the ages of…15 and 23, I think more people would be like, ‘oh my god;’ it’s just the fact that it’s an illegal drug that’s killing somebody. So, I think it’s relevant…it still kind of gets swept under the rug.”

Image courtesy of Patch.com.

Benjamin Strawbridge is a News Editor and the Senate Correspondent for The New Hampshire newspaper at the University of New Hampshire. He joined in September 2017 as a contributor, and was promoted to his current position in April 2018. Strawbridge is part of the UNH Class of 2020 and majors in English/Journalism.

"I've always shied away from conventional wisdom, though I know the power of it." - Peter Jennings